Dr. Shiri Zemah Shamir is an Environmental Economist at the IDC School of Sustainability. Her work delves into topics such as shark tourism and ecosystem services assessment in the sea and terrestrial ecosystems. It helps that her husband is a Marine Biologist and a keen collaborator. When asked about the implications of her exciting research, she shrugs her shoulders and modestly replies that her specialty is crunching number and performing cost-benefit analysis. Not exactly saving endangered species, but her work does influence policy makers and consumer culture.
One of her recent projects explored the most effective way for reclaiming vast areas of polluted soil in Israel. Contaminated soil from factories, fuel stations and refineries is a major concern because it effects ground water and in turn all consumer products and public health. Popular methods of remediating soil can be extremely costly, with an estimate of 6500 million dollars to clean out petroleum contaminated soil in Israel. Phytoremediationis a cost-effective technique that uses plants to absorb toxic substances in the soil. The field study conducted by Dr. Zemah Shamir and colleagues used Vetiver grass which is a perineal plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions and can adapt to a wide variety of environmental conditions. Chemical analysis after several intervals of planting Vetiver in contaminated soil proved to be an effective method, removing up to 79% of diesel pollution. Additionally, weeds growing in that region recovered completely to non-polluted levels within nine months of planting Vetiver. Cost-benefit analysis using the Net Present Value (NPV) compared using phytoremediation to other decontamination procedures, showed that the cleanup costs are lower and more beneficial, signifying that using Vetiver can be an effective way to clean up soil across Israel (Zemah Shamir and colleagues, 2017).
Zemah Shamir’s upcoming project includes evaluating shark tourism in areas like Hadera Israel which has recently experienced a surge of sharks, allowing for potential growth in tourism. Looking at the ecological, economic and social equilibrium aspects, her team of researchers will be evaluating the cost-benefit analysis to decide whether or not it is worth investing in infrastructure to attract more tourists, and what is the optimal policy to preserve the shark population.