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From Far Beneath the Israeli Desert, Water Sustains a Fertile Enterprise

ISRAEL - The days coppery last light reflects off the backs of sea bass swimming in fish ponds lined in neat rows on this desert farm.

Ponds fed by geothermal waters from under the Negev teem with fish at Kibbutz Mashabbe Sade.

Fish farming in the desert may at first sound like an anomaly, but in Israel over the last decade a scientific hunch has turned into a bustling business.

Scientists here say they realized they were on to something when they found that brackish water drilled from underground desert aquifers hundreds of feet deep could be used to raise warm-water fish. The geothermal water, less than one-tenth as saline as sea water, free of pollutants and a toasty 98 degrees on average, proved an ideal match.

“It was not simple to convince people that growing fish in the desert makes sense,” said Samuel Appelbaum, a professor and fish biologist at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at the Sede Boqer campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

“It is important to stop with the reputation that arid land is nonfertile, useless land,” said Professor Appelbaum, who pioneered the concept of desert aquaculture in Israel in the late 1980s. “We should consider arid land where subsurface water exists as land that has great opportunities, especially in food production because of the low level of competition on the land itself and because it gives opportunities to its inhabitants.”

Source: The New York Times

the Fish Site Editor

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