It is hard to believe, but an abandoned rubbish dump on the outskirts of Eilat is considered one of the most important avian habitats in the world, as it is the main – perhaps the only – way station for over 500 million migratory birds on their way between Europe / Asia and Africa. In recent years KKL-JNF has been working to create bird-watching sites
where bird enthusiastsand other visitors can observe these seasonal migrants. KKL-JNF was also instrumental in helping to develop the first migratory bird feeding station in southern Israel, in Yeruham Park.
For thousands of years this area of Eilat was occupied by a saltmarsh that served as a way station and feeding site for migratory birds until it fell victim to the Eilat building boom, and the birds were obliged to satisfy their hunger in local farmers’ fields. Until the early 1990s the site was used as a rubbish dump. In 1990, in a joint initiative on the part of KKL-JNF, the Israeli Government Tourist Corporation, the Nature and Parks Authority and the Eilat Municipality, development work began: the ground was leveled, the garbage heaps were covered up, pools were createdand trees that could provide the birds with food were planted. The park is directed by Noam Weiss and managed by Tzadok Tzemach of the Eilat Municipal Tourism Corporation in conjunction with KKL-JNF and other bodies.
The Arava region
, which forms part of the Great Rift Valley (also referred to as the Syro-African Depression) is an important migration route, and it is estimated that between five hundred million and one billion birds cross its skies during the migration seasons. Eilat lies at a critical point on the route, on the northern boundary of the world’s desert belt, and many birds stop off to break their journey near the city. In the autumn, on their way to Africa, they pause to rest and gather their forces before crossing the deserts, and in the spring, en route to Europe, they stop off to recuperate after their desert journey.
The saltmarsh that formerly occupied an area of twelve square kilometers adjacent to Eilat contained marsh plants that produced fruit in the spring at just the right time to coincide with the arrival of the migratory birds, who fed off the abundant fruit and used the vegetation as cover. However, as Eilat gained popularity as a tourist venue, much of the saltmarsh that once served as a “pit stop” after their marathon flight over thousands of kilometers was replaced by hotels, farmland and salt pools, and part of it became an unofficial rubbish dump.
The loss of the saltmarsh proved disastrous for the birds. Before migrating, small birds build up measured resources of energy that enable them to cross the deserts and arrive safely in Eilat, and the lives of members of some of these species depend on their finding sustenance in the saltmarsh on arrival.
Eilat is important to large birds, too, which glide for a considerable portion of their migration flight, and hundreds of thousands of gliding birds pass through the Eilat region during every migration season. To lift themselves off the ground these hefty birds require the help of thermals, i.e., warm currents of air that bear them aloft. As thermals are found only on dry land, the Eilat promontory is very useful to them.