Tunisia names 15 sites for World Wetlands Day

01/02/2012

Tunisia's Direction générale des Forêts, the Ramsar Convention's implementing authority in that country, is marking World Wetlands Day 2012 with ceremonies announcing the addition of 15 new Wetlands of International Importance and the launch of a new atlas of Tunisian Ramsar Sites. The new designations include six dams and reservoirs, four permanent or intermittent saline lakes, two marine areas (the Golfe de Boughrara and the Îles Kerkennah), the famous Gorges de Thelja, and two additional freshwater sources.

The preparatory work to support these new designations was carried out with support from the WWF International Freshwater Programme, WWF Mediterranean Programme, WWF Tunis Office, and the MAVA Foundation. Tunisia now has 35 Ramsar Sites covering an area of 821,009 hectares.

Barrage de Sidi El Barrak. 02/02/12; Beja; 2,734 ha; 37°00'41"N 009°01'18"E. One of the most important dams and reservoirs in Tunisia for its use for irrigation, supply of potable water to the Tunis and Sfax areas and the Sahel, and amelioration of the quality of water of the Medjerda Cap Bon canal. The site, adjacent to the Mediterranean coast in the northwest, is rich in fish species, including the vulnerable Common Carp Cyprinus carpio, and mammals like the near-threatened otter Lutra lutra among others. The wetland produces over 100 tons of fish per year for commercial purposes, especially the Mediterranean sea bass and the zander. It is characterized by natural and artificial forests rich in both timber and non-timber forest products, and provides a source of livelihood for most of the local population who carry out agricultural practices as well as fishing around the area. It has just been connected to the national network of Tunisian waters through the Sejnanae dam. Ramsar Site no. 2017. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Barrage de Sidi Saad. 02/02/12; Kairouan; 8,650 ha; 35°22'N 009°40'E. A dam and reservoir that was created in 1981 to fight against floods of the river Zeroud and ensures a supply of potable water in the region of Kairouan. It is a breeding zone for several fish species and includes introduced freshwater fish like the carp Ctenopharingodron sp., zander Sander lucioperca, common roach Rutilus rutilus, rudd Scardinius erythrophtalmus and catfish Silurus glanis, as well as the introduced marine Mullet, and occasionally the semi-aquatic turtle Mauremys leprosa is observed on the site. It supports several species of waterbirds including herons, the coot Fulica atra, and Great Crested Grebe. The watershed is located in the Mediterranean Biome-North Africa and characterized by high relief hosting some tufted reeds and benthic fauna, dominated by phanerogram plants like the sago pondweed Potamogeton pectinatus. The site is state-owned but provides livelihoods through fishing and irrigated agriculture to people in the region, though over-exploitation of these resources is seen as a potential threat. Ramsar Site no 2018. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Barrage Merguellil. 02/02/12; Kairouan; 714 ha; 35°33'57"N 009°44'19"E. A reservoir and dam equipped with water and soil conservation techniques intended to intensify and enhance agricultural production within the basin. It is home to diverse species at different critical stages of their life cycle, including the endangered White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala. There are several waterbird species including Ardea cinerea, Egretta garzetta, Marmaronetta angustirostris, Phalacrocorax carbo, and Sylvia melanocephala. Within the basin, Eucalyptus sp is the dominant plant in the forest flora. Human pressure through agricultural activities is a challenging situation in the area and has caused the degradation and erosion of watersheds. This results in water pollution and sediment accumulation which is seen as a persistent threat for the site. The dam is also known as the Barrage El Haouareb. Ramsar Site no. 2010. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Barrage Oued El Hajar. 02/02/12; Nabeul; 254 ha; 36°50'N 011°02'E. One of the most recent and biggest freshwater dams in a series recently constructed in Tunisia for agricultural purposes (mainly cereal farming upstream, animal rearing on hillsides, and vegetable and tobacco cultivation downstream). It contributes to flood control during long rainy seasons. The site is an important "migratory bottleneck" for migrating birds which pass across the Mediterranian Sea, and is also a nesting and wintering ground for several waterbirds, among which are endangered and vulnerable species like Oxyura leucocephala and Marmaronetta angustirostris. In spring, it provides a resting place for several species (not only waterbirds) which migrate to Africa in winter. It harbours more than 1% of the population of several important waterbird species including Arythya nyroca, Oxyura leucocephala and Phoenicopterus roseus. A major threat is the use of fertilizers in agricultural activities carried out around the site, which may in the long run lead to eutrophication. Ramsar Site no. 2013. Most recent RIS information: 2013.

Barrage Oued Ermal. 02/02/12; Zaghouan; 620 ha; 36°20'56"N 010°20'55'E. A dam and reservoir that constitutes a vital area for several waterfowl at various critical stages of their life cycle. It is a nesting place for such waterbirds as Cattle Egret, Spoonbill, Eurasian Coot, Shoveler Ducks, Plover, Gadwall, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Marbled Duck, Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher, Water Pipit, Skylark, and Chiffchaff. The vegetation surrounding the site is dominated by Eucalyptus sp. The dam has a significant hydrological value as a source of irrigation for a large area immediately downstream in the plains of Bouficha. The area has important historical value due to the presence of the Roman monument "Temple des eaux". It is threatened by the rearing of animals, which increases soil erosion and causes the destruction of the natural vegetation as well as a decrease in the quantity of water and potentially the death of fish species. Ramsar Site no. 2014. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Barrage Sidi Abdelmoneem. 02/02/12; Nabeul; 31 ha; 36 51'31"N 010 56'00"E. An artificial wetland near the tip of the Cap Bon peninsula with isolated freshwater filling up in winter as a result of rainfall and runoffs from agricultural practices. The site provides nesting opportunities for many vulnerable waterfowl species like the White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala and Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris classified as endangered and vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List. Land use is characterized by agriculture (cereals, farming on the mountain slopes, and gardening), and the main hydrological value of the site is to provide water for irrigation and contribute to groundwater recharge. The main habitats include shallow waters that host plant species Ruppia sp and Zannichellia sp as well as the edges of the water bodies colonized by a dense population of Typha cattail or bulrush. Ramsar Site no. 2016. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Chott Elguetar. 02/02/12; Gafsa; 7,400 ha; 34°17'25"N 008°54'49"E. A seasonal intermittent saline lake (chott, or sebhka) at the northern limit of the Sahara, it is a natural wetland almost in its primary state, characterized by a combination of large shallow depressions irregularly flooded. Vegetation present includes halophytes adapted to long dry periods stretching to over 5,000 ha of the site. The diversity in the vegetation is determined by the presence of water in the sites which is also very important for increasing the water table level and providing a breeding ground for water birds. The site provides habitat for a good number of threatened species, including the Scimitar Oryx Oryx dammah, Addax Addax nasomaculatus, and Dama Gazelle Gazella dama, which are critically endangered, the gazelles Gazella leptoceros and Gazella cuvier which are endangered, and Gazella dorcas, which is vulnerable. It supports several mammals throughout their life cycles, and it is a nesting and wintering ground for many waterbirds. Traces of religious and industrial activity have been found which date back 40,000 years, as well as evidence of Neolithic and Berber cultures from an early time. Ramsar Site no. 2005. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Golfe de Boughrara.02/02/12; Medenine; 12,880 ha; 33°28'N 010°45"E. BirdLife IBA. A broad, semi-closed lagoon with a narrow connection to the sea around both sides of the Isle of Djerba; it receives water permanently from the Mediterranean as well as tidal currents from the Ajim Channel separating the mainland from Djerba in the west. The area is an exceptional site for terrestrial and marine biodiversity. It is considered to be increasingly vulnerable and fragile as a result of insufficient fresh water, shallow depth, limited water circulation, and intense evaporation as well as anthropogenic activities through indiscriminate fishing and the use of destructive fishing machines. The Posidonia Herbarium characterizing the vegetation cover favours the settlement of fish, bivalves and other species and also serves as a source of food for plankton and a breeding ground for fish species. It harbours diverse bird species during winter. Though it has been classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA), there are further potential threats to its sustainability such as organic waste disposal from animal rearing activities, phosphorus waste disposal from surrounding industries, waste water and solid wastes from the peripheries. Ramsar Site no. 2008. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Iles Kerkennah ou l'archipel de Kerkennah. 02/02/12; Sfax; 15,000 ha; 34°47'25'N 011°14'54"E. Réserve Naturelle. A flat archipelago of several islets and permanent shallow marine water at the northeastern end of the Kerkennah Islands. It is a significant wintering ground for migrating birds including waterbirds and shoreline bird species. The tufts of Neptune Grass, Posidonia oceanica, covering the area play an important role in maintaining biodiversity as they supply oxygen and shelter for many vertebrate and invertebrate species, including aquatic species such as fish, bivalves and gastropods among others. Marine fauna in the area are also represented by sponges and mollusks and several types of tortoise. The site and surroundings are an important fishing and agricultural area with a moderately developed tourism sector; artisanal fishing is best represented by a famous, local traditional method, called charfias, using arrays of traps built from palm leaves. Potential threats include the presence of large phosphate producing industries, but it is expected that the management plan, legal steps, and creation of a marine protected area will ameliorate the situation. Ramsar Site no. 2012. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Les Gorges de Thelja. 02/02/12; Gafsa; 675 ha; 34°'23'37"N 008°20'36"E. Réserve Naturelle. A natural valley with deep ravine areas through which Thelja Wadi runs, mountainous and arid in the chain of the djebels of the Saharan Atlas (altitude 210-450 m). The valley extends through several kilometers along the very sinuous Thelja and is a landscape of unique tourist attraction in Tunisia, with its famous Red Lizard train journey from al-Mitlawi (Metlaoui) with renovated train cars from the phosphate mining. The site includes Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos as well as the lizard Uromastyx acanthinura, which has a high capacity to live in desert conditions. The site is potentially threatened by pollution as a result of the mining activities carried out upstream and constructions related to tourism, but it is part of a presidential programme created in 2009 to preserve the mountain, wadi, and gallery biotopes to reinforce the biological diversity, encourage ecological tourism, and support scientific research and tourism. Ramsar Site no. 2009. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Marais d'eau douce Garaet Douza. 02/02/12; Gafsa; 1,400 ha; 34 28'N 008 29'E. A seasonal freshwater marsh surrounded by a circle of mountains which give it a wonderful landscape. It is a good site for the promotion of Saharan ecotourism in the country, as it is a natural wetland that has not been adversely affected by agriculture and harbours a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. The site is home to species dependent on pre-desert ecosystems, such as Cream-colored Courser Cursorius cursor or Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pteroclesorientalis. It is also a habitat of several species typical of the Mediterranean biome/North Africa, including the Greater Hoopoe-Lark Alaemon alaudipes and the Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens. Rainwater is retained at the site in autumn and winter attracts waterbirds and provides the necessary conditions for wintering and nesting. Potentially adverse factors are mainly overgrazing and poaching. Ramsar Site no. 2007. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Oued Dekouk. 02/02/12; Tataouine; 5,750 hectares; 32°09'N 010°32'E. Réserve Naturelle. A rare permanent freshwater source in the Mediterranean biome favoring the presence of animal and plant species and sheltering the IUCN red-listed vulnerable Barbary Sheep Ammotragus lervia. The site hosts several other species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals at critical stages of their life cycles including reproduction; juvenile and lactation in mammals. The site is managed as a nature reserve by the state; it has important potential for ecotourism with its remarkable landscapes (wadis, scenic cliffs, and large dunes) and extensive, typical flora and fauna. Potential threats to the wetland include pollution (polluting industries located at close proximities) and the negative impacts of human activities on the site. Ramsar Site no. 2011. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Salines de Monastir. 02/02/12; Monastir; 1,000 ha; 35°45'N 010°46'E. BirdLife IBA. A permanent wetland with variable salinity and nutrient value favoring the presence of scavenger fish species, comprising a saline coastal lagoon between the cities of Monastir and Sousse, connected to the sea by two relatively broad channels and bounded on the seaward side by the international airport . It is a natural salt marsh and a representative example of the rare Western Palearctic wetland type. The wetland is home to populations of fish and algae and important for biodiversity conservation as well as for wintering, nesting and permanently resident seabirds, and thus it is a natural waterbird refuge, especially for species such as Tadorna Tadorna, Himantopus Himantopus and Recurvirostra avocet, and supports the Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans and the little tern Sterna albifrons. The site is a source of food (algae and organic matter) to fishes and plays a role in the retention and disposal of water during floods. It is threatened by pollution from several sources, including tourism, transport and industry. Ramsar Site no. 2015. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Sebkhet Halk Elmanzel et Oued Essed. 02/02/12; Sousse; 1,450 ha; 35°59'23"N 010°30'10"E. BirdLife IBA. A coastal saline lagoon that is representative of an almost natural sebkha, a characteristic wetland type in the semi-arid region of the Tunisian Sahel. It contributes significantly in maintaining the biodiversity characteristics of its biogeographical region as it serves as a habitat for biologically important species such as the vulnerable Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris. It is a wintering and nesting ground for birds and also an important source of food and a spawning ground for fishes such as Mugil sp. and Lisa sp. The site also supports several animal species throughout their life cycles. Fishery activities and aquaculture are carried out by the people of the area to sustain livelihoods, and water from the lagoon is used for animal rearing nearby. Strategic measures of erosion control have been put in place through the planting of forest trees (particularly Acacias) around the lake. The main hydrological value of the wetland is the absorption of flood waters, which are sometimes violent, from the large tributary wadis. Ramsar Site no. 2006. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

Sebkhet Sidi Elhani.02/02/12; Sousse, Mahdia; 36,000 ha; 35°34'N 010°24'E. BirdLife IBA. An extensive salt lake where the water is intermittent, characteristic of the Tunisian Sahel semi-arid, almost natural ecosystem that contributes to the maintenance of biological diversity of the Western Palearctic. Fed by several rivers (Wadis Chrita, Mansoura, and Om El Melah), the site hosts plant species such as Arthrocnemum sp., Salicornia sp. and Suaeda sp. and avian species such as Phoenicopterus roseus, Charadrius alexandrinus, Anas clypeata and Grus grus. As an Important Bird Area, the area is habitat for the crustacean Artemia salina which is of great interest as food for birds and some aquaculture species. The main hydrological value of the site is the absorption of sometimes violent floods from its large tributaries, and the watershed also captures a large quantity of sediment and plays an important role in recharging the groundwater and wells. The main economic activity around the lake is the animal rearing. Ramsar Site no. 2019. Most recent RIS information: 2011.

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