By SHARON UDASIN 01/31/2012 04:45
Known scientifically as Nemacheilus dori, the fish are found only in Israel and exclusively in waters of a tiny wetland reserve.
Nemacheilus dori fish By Israel Nature and Parks Authority
In a tiny mud-drenched nature reserve just off Road 90, on the way to Beit Shean, black pin-sized baby fish swarm through a gurgling stream, while their two-inch gray, slivery parents hide underneath nearby stones.

The fish, known scientifically as Nemacheilus dori, are found only in Israel and exclusively in the waters of this tiny wetland nature reserve, a 0.7-hectare spot located in the country’s north, at Ein Malkoach.

Israel Nature and Parks Authority ecologists are doing everything in their power to ensure this historically endemic fish do not disappear from this sheltered area as well.

In honor of International Wetlands Day, which occurs Thursday, the authority decided to open up the reserve – which is closed to the public – to journalists for the first time on Monday.

Researchers first conducted a survey of this fish’s population in 2009, during which they found only about 40 of the animals in the stream, according to Dana Milstein, aquatic ecologist for the Nature and Parks Authority.

“The problem was that we knew the population was very small and we were afraid to do something that might endanger the existing population,” Milstein told The Jerusalem Post.

In 2011, however, they found that the community had increased to about 200, so they decided to collect 20 of them to study and breed in captivity at a private farm in Rehovot.

“In addition to breeding them we try to learn about their behavior,” she said, explaining that a camera monitors their every move, something which has alerted the scientists to the fish’s heightened morning activity, as opposed to evening.

The Nemacheilus dori, who are the only fish in the stream and join some crabs, mollusks and worms, are very difficult to see as “their color is very similar to that of the ground and they like to be under stones,” Milstein explained. They also jet quite rapidly from one stone to another, she added.

The natural spring at Ein Malkoach is very small – only generating 5 cubic meters of water per hour – so the INPA created two additional artificial ponds that are connected to the original by hand-dug streams, and fill with water through a pipe, parks officials explained.

Now, the number of channels the fish can swim in has tripled, and the quantity of water flowing is 12 cubic meters per hour, according to Milstein.

“We hope that the fish in this reserve will increase and they will reproduce and be stable and will give us enough time to reconstruct or rehabilitate other aquatic habitats, so that we can introduce the fish to other places,” she said. “It’s not that the fish are special – this is the only habitat that remains.”