Varied new Ramsar sites in Tunisia

06/11/2007

Tunisia names 19 new Ramsar sites

The government of Tunisia, which joined the Ramsar Convention in 1981, has designated 19 new Wetlands of International Importance, which will be celebrated tomorrow, 7 November 2007, as part of national commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of the present government. Tunisia now has 20 Ramsar sites, covering an area of 726,541 hectares.

Michael Smart, who assisted the authorities of the Direction Générale des Forêts in compiling the requisite data for the new sites, emphasizes that "there is a very wide spread of sites all over the territory of the country, and the regional authorities have been much involved in site selection and the preparation of documentation". He notes: "There is also a very wide variety of wetland types, from peatbogs in the north like Dar Fatma and Mejen Ech Chitan (how many people knew there were peat bogs in North Africa?); to a major delta, the Mejerdah; to coastal lagoons like Korba [Lagunes du Cap Bon oriental]; to typical North African salt depressions on the desert edge like Kelbia, Noual and Sidi Mansour, not forgetting the biggest one of them all, Chott El Jerid; to karstic wetlands like Ain Dahab; to oasis wetlands, the Kebili group; artificial wetlands like the Thyna saltpans and the Lebna water reservoir; and finally a major group of tidal sites. I would give a special word to the tidal sites, which are extremely rare in the Mediterranean and very important for their birds, fish and shellfish: they include Kneiss Islands (probably the most important tidal site in the whole of the Mediterranean), the three Djerba sites, and Bahiret el Bibane."

The preparations for the new designations have been materially assisted by WWF International's Global Freshwater Programme and WWF's Mediterranean Programme Office (MedPO), with generous support from the MAVA Foundation. The Ramsar Secretariat warmly congratulates the government of Tunisia and all involved in this significant step forward.


-- Photos by Hichem Azafzaf;
site descriptions based on RIS data,
Adrián Ruiz Carvajal and Evelyn Parh Moloko

Ain Dahab. 07/11/07; Siliana; 560 ha; 35°53'N 009°28'E. Located in central Tunisia, this wetland, whose name literally means "source of gold", originates in a karstic environment well-known for its underground hydrological formations, which in turn host an important population of bats (Pipistrellus sp) that has not yet been fully studied. The portion of the site above ground has the typical flora and fauna of central Tunisia, which is characterised by a rocky semi-arid landscape. The site is virtually intact, and extensive cattle grazing probably constitutes its main stressor. Ramsar site No. 1696. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Bahiret el Bibane. 07/11/07; Médenine; 39,266 ha; 33°15'N 011°15'E. Bahiret el Bibane ( "Small Sea of El Bibane") is a large lagoon close to the border with Libya and separated from the sea by two karstic peninsulas several kilometres in length, with nine islets. The lagoon and its remarkable hydrological layout are of great importance to the life cycles of many fish species, which enter the lagoon at an early stage in their development and leave fully grown. Fisheries are managed sustainably to avoid depleting the existing stocks, in turn guaranteeing the benefits provided to the waterbirds that visit the wetland. Ramsar site No. 1697. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Barrage Lebna. 07/11/07; Nabeul; 1,147 ha; 36°45'N 010°54'E. Located in the extreme northeast of the country near Cap Bon, this lake is an artificial barrage isolated from the rest of the national dam system, effectively preventing any water exchange between this site and other nearby barrages. After its construction in 1987, it soon became a primary destination for tens of thousands of waterfowl migrating between Africa and Europe, some of them threatened, like the marbled teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris), the white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) and the ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca), among others. No major adverse effects have been reported for the site. Ramsar site No. 1698. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Chott El Jerid. 07/11/07; Tozeur, Kebili; 586,187 ha; 33°42'N 008°24'E. A vast saline depression located between the mountain range of Cherb to the north and the desert to the south, representing a characteristic wetland of the northern Sahara. Of special interest are the fossil water aquifers that nourish the oases around the site, and some economically interesting oil reservoirs. The site also hosts an important steppe fauna and flora and supports between 3,000 and 15,000 Mediterranean flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), or 3.5% of the individuals for this species in this biogeographical region. Climate change and overgrazing on the borders of the chott risk provoking a loss of vegetation cover and erosion. Ramsar site No. 1699. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Djerba Bin El Ouedian. 07/11/07; Medenine; 12,082 ha; 33°40'N 010°55'E. This site is composed of the southern part of the island of Djerba (514 Km2) and the Bin El Ouedian wetland centered on the Al Kantara causeway to the mainland. Djerba has seen a rapid increase in tourism in the past 40 years, carrying with it important human pressures, which include an excessive collection of shellfish, pollution and the removal of sand for local construction purposes. Bin El Ouedian, on the other hand, constitutes a rare portion of the island that has remained almost pristine until now. The influence of the Mediterranean tide, coupled with a characteristic marine hydrology, play a dominant role in the dynamics of this wetland, which supports a remarkable fauna of (shell)fish and waterbirds. The area also contains important archaeological sites such as the old fort of Bordj El Kastil and the Roman site of Méninx. Ramsar site No. 1700. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Djerba Guellala. 07/11/07; Medenine; 2,285 ha; 33°42'N 010°44'E. Located on the island of Djerba, comprising the coastal areas along the southwest corner of the island facing the mainland at Jorf. The flora and fauna are characteristic of arid zones, and include among others the pink flamingo (Phoenicopterus (ruber) roseus) and the Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), which use the site during their migrations between Africa and Europe. Although the site remains almost intact, there is a small risk of pollution from the ships that use the Ajim ferry port. Ramsar site No. 1701. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Djerba Ras Rmel. 07/11/07; Medenine; 1,856 ha; 33°52'N 010°54'E. The third Ramsar site in Djerba, Ras Rmel ("sand cape") is a sand bar 10 km long located in the north of the island. The bar protects an area of lagoons east of Houmt Souk that is frequented by numerous migratory bird species including the spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) and the thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus). The site suffers from intense pressure from tourism, land pollution (plastic wastes), and the extraction of sand for construction. Ramsar site No. 1702. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Garaet Sidi Mansour. 07/11/07; Gafsa; 2,426 ha; 34°14'N 009°29'E. A large basin in mainland Tunisia, ecologically comparable to the Sebkhet Kelbia Ramsar site. This wetland, situated directly to the south of the Sebkhet Noual Ramsar site, collects the waters of the surrounding watersheds, but may remain dry for periods extending for several years. The eastern side is regularly cultivated, while the western end is more saline. When precipitation is high the site attracts an extremely rich avifauna, both during winter andduring the nesting season. The site has remained in a quasi-natural state, without any water storage infrastructure. Ramsar site No. 1703. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Iles Kneiss avec leurs zones intertidales. 07/11/07; Sfax; 22,027 ha; 34°22'N 010°20'E . Located at the center of the Gulf of Gabès and noted for its remarkably high tidal variation of about 2m amplitude, a vast depression surrounded by marine subtidal aquatic beds, intertidal mud and sand flats, intertidal marshes and sandy shores. These islands, about 3.5km from the mainland, consist of 4 subislands which emerge from the sea at high tide but are surrounded by vast mud and sand flats at low tide. The dominant marine vegetation is Cymodocea nodosa. This site is the most important area for migratory waders in the Mediterranean zone, and over 330,000 waterbirds have been counted on this wetland. It is a breeding ground for the little Egret (Egretta garzetta), common Redshank (Tringa tetanus), Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei) and a wintering ground for the Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), etc. The shores of the islands hold a wide variety of shellfish which are exploited visiting population. The islands are not inhabited but are visited by humans for shell collection for exportation to Italy. Despite the introduction of collection licenses in 1988, overexploitation of shell remains a problem. Ramsar site No. 1704. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Lac et Tourbière de Mejen Ech Chitan. 07/11/07; Bizerte; 7 ha; 37º09'N 009°06'E; Nature Reserve. The lake and peatland of Mejen Ech Chitan are part of the "Chain of Mogods", a forested area extending along the northwest of the country near the sea. The Lake, also known as the "Lake of Water Lilies" for being the only site in Tunisia where this species is found, is an enclosed water body adjacent to the peatland. Peatlands are rare in North Africa, and their geological properties raise considerable interest, as the study of their pollen and spore traces makes it possible to reconstruct the evolution of the local vegetation, in this case providing information several thousand years into the past. The site is privately owned and in need of restoration. Ramsar site No. 1705. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Lagune de Ghar el Melh et Delta de la Mejerda. 07/11/07; Bizerte, Ariana; 10,168 ha; 37°06'N 010°11'E. An ancient sea bay now almost totally laden with sediments, this complex and dynamic wetland includes the delta of the most important river in the north of the country, a lagoon rich in fish species, and several secondary lagoons and floodplains. During the past 50 years the site has seen many changes, from water diversion for human uses to the building of a series of barrages to reduce the risk of floods. Migratory fish use the site for feeding, especially during the winter period before reaching the sea. Artisanal fishing is practised by the local population. Ramsar site No. 1706. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Lagunes du Cap Bon oriental. 07/11/07; Nabeul; 504 ha; 36°33'N 010°51'E. Characterised by the almost continuous presence of wetlands along the coast, but isolated from the sea by a thin sand strip and beaches. Small portions are also occupied by small forest patches or used for agriculture. The variety of habitats and vegetation make the site ideal for several species of fauna, especially reptiles and waterfowl, several of which are threatened. For many years the site has suffered negative impacts as a result of its proximity to the surrounding urban areas, principally Korba. Ramsar site No. 1707. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Laguna de Korba

Les Tourbières de Dar Fatma. 07/11/07; Jendouba; 13 ha; 36°48'N 008°46'E. Located in the mountainous region of Kroumirie, these peatlands have a significant presence of oak trees of various species. The peatlands are located in the open areas and have sizes that vary between 2m and 8m in diameter and are among the best examples in North Africa. The site is of primary importance for hosting species of flora needed to maintain the local biodiversity and for understanding its evolution in the region. Overgrazing and agriculture have had a negative impact on the site. Ramsar site No. 1708. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Salines de Thyna. 07/11/07; Sfax; 3,343 ha; 34°39'N 010°43'E. Located within the 'Gulf of Gabès, one of only two Mediterranean zones under the influence of tidal fluctuations of up to 2m amplitude, consisting of salt pans, permanent shallow marine waters, and intertidal marshes. These remarkable physical conditions result in unique ecosystems such as natural salt flats, which are presently rare in Tunisia and serve as refuge and feeding grounds for sea birds such as the common Redshank (Tringa tetanus), Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei) and the little tern (Sterna albifrons), etc., during high tides. The boundaries of the seaward side of the Ramsar site go as deep as 5m below sea level. The marine zone is important for fishing and has Posidonia oceanica as the dominant marine vegetation. The salt pans are presently exploited by the Tunisian general salt company (COTUSAL), which prohibits public access, thus serving as a security strategy for fauna in the site. This is further reinforced by a hunting and grazing prohibition by the Ministry of Agriculture. Ramsar site No. 1709. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Sebkhet Kelbia. 07/11/07; Sousse; 8,732 ha; 35°50'N 010°15'E. Nature Reserve. Since the site is composed of a combination of private and public owned lands, the strategy to promote conservation in the short term has consisted in assigning priority to public lands. Together with Ichkeul, this wetland has historically been considered one of the two great continental wetland zones of the country, regularly hosting around 200,000 waterbirds. Dams were built in the past that brought about significant ecological changes. Restoration of the site, including some of the original water flows, is among the main management objectives. Ramsar site No. 1710. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Sebkhet Noual. 07/11/07; Sidi Bou Zid, Sfax; 17,060 ha; 34°25'N 009°45' E. A vast saline depression that occasionally collects the rainwater runoff of the multiple creeks that form in the adjacent mountains. Precipitation is highly variable, and the lake can remain dry for several years. This steppe environment hosts large numbers of waterbirds such as the vulnerable houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata). It is a typical example of a vast Sub-Saharan saline lake surrounded by an acacia (Acacia raddiana) forest. Apart from climate variations, overgrazing has caused a loss of vegetation cover and increased erosion. Ramsar site No. 1711. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Sebkhet Noual

Sebkhet Sejoumi. 07/11/07; Tunis; 2,979 ha; 36°45'N 010°09'E. A closed, shallow basin that has maintained its biological importance despite being exposed to considerable urban pressures near Tunis, including various wastewater discharges. Although it often dries out in the summer, some saline marshes usually remain, attracting a large number of waterbirds the whole year, especially those tolerant to high salinities like the pink flamingo (Phoenicopterus (ruber) roseus) and several ducks. The site continues to be subject to intense pressures, including hydraulic works to prevent flooding. Ramsar site No. 1712. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Sebkhet Sejoumi

Sebkhet Soliman. 07/11/07; Nabeul; 880 ha; 36°43'N 010°29'E. Located in the Gulf of Tunisia, this floodplain suffered severe drainage to create new lands for agriculture. It is one of the rare wetlands that conserves its water throughout the year, receiving inputs from the wastewater treatment stations of El Bey and from the sea. Urbanization remains the main threat to the site, and important tourism facilities have been built during the past decades. Hunting is also present in the area. Ramsar site No. 1713. Most recent RIS information: 2007.

Zones Humides Oasiennes de Kebili. 07/11/07; Kebili; 2,419 ha; 33°30'N 008°55'E. The site is composed of many small wetlands that together form one unit, made up of depressions that border upon oases, sometimes formed by springs and used for irrigation. The water types vary from fresh to slightly salty, the latter often unsuitable for agriculture. The site is important for migratory birds that cross the Sahara, especially in spring (in summer they tend to fly over the Mediterranean). Although date plantations are vast and constantly expanding, the main threat to the site appears to be uncontrolled hunting, which causes the birds to move constantly from one site to another. Ramsar site No. 1714. Most recent RIS information: 2007.


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