Unless stated otherwise, all photos are courtesy of ©️TCNR
Marine conservationists in Lebanon are passionate about protecting the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve, a bastion of biodiversity in this corner of the Mediterranean.
If we fail to protect our biodiversity, we can endanger our plants, animals, and environment, as well as human life. Human cultures co-evolve with their environment and conservation is a priority for cultural identity. Are biodiversity enthusiasts aware of the natural wonders within the tiny Mediterranean country?
Lebanon, covering an area of 10,452 square kilometers, only occupies 0.007 percent of the world’s land surface yet is home to about 1.11 percent of the world’s plant species. Its waters represent less than 1 percent of the world’s ocean surface, yet is home to about 1,790 species, representing almost 2.7 percent of the world’s marine species.
To preserve this unique heritage, the Lebanese Youth Biodiversity Network, or GYBN - Lebanon Chapter, is devoted to connecting individuals and youth organizations to create a global coalition to stop the biodiversity loss.
In order to spread awareness on the subject of biodiversity among the Lebanese youth, GYBN Lebanon organized a training day at Tyre Coast Nature Reserve and brought together members and active youth. Everyone present was motivated and inspired to take action in support of biodiversity and nature conservation in our homeland.
A Brief History of Ancient Tyre
The ancient town of Tyre, 83 kilometers south of Beirut, was once a great Phoenician city that ruled the oceans and built thriving colonies such as Cadiz and Carthage across the Mediterranean. In this period (1200-868 BC) of economic growth, trade and industry in the Tyre boomed. The prosperity largely emerged from manufacturers of a purple dye extracted from murex shellfishes. The pigment quickly rose to prominence among the rich elite due to its great beauty. Around the collapse of the late Bronze Age, freed from Egyptian hegemony, the Tyrians established themselves as the dominant power in the Levant and the Mediterranean. In this time period, it was common to refer to the Mediterranean Sea as the Tyrian Sea.
Owing to its rich history and flourishing economy in ancient times to the sea, Tyre is now home to the last remaining sandy beach ecosystem in Lebanon. In order to preserve this natural heritage, the Lebanese government established the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve back in 1998. Occupying an area of 3.8 square km, the reserve encompasses a sandy beach ecosystem, private agricultural lands, and freshwater springs. Additionally, it rests along a major migratory route for birds and nesting sea turtles.
Ali Badreddine: An Inspiration to Lebanese Marine Conservation
Tyre Coast Nature Reserve Director Ali Badreddine facilitated the GBYN training sessions. Badreddine’s work has an incredible impact because he invests so much time studying, analyzing, and communicating the evolution, formation, and ecology of important local coastal ecosystems and their biodiversity.
Badreddine is also working on the application of new tools to evaluate the ecological status of Mediterranean coastal ecosystems, marine turtle conservation in the Mediterranean, as well as the conservation and protection of the Mediterranean Monk Seal.
Novelty of Lebanese Marine Ecosystems
The training offered an interactive lesson on the general characteristics and ecosystems of Lebanese coastlines.
The coastal ecosystems of Lebanon support a variety and abundance of marine life since they are situated in the Mediterranean Sea, a biodiversity hotspot.
The coastlines support a wide range of habitats, from shallow coralligenous ecosystems, seagrass meadows, and seagrass beds, to deep underwater canyons.
The large brown algae forests of Cystoseira and Vermetid reefs are only two examples of the diverse ecosystems found in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The majority of the Lebanese coastline consists of rocky shores, which makes macroalgal communities an excellent choice for evaluating ecological services.
Moreover, their longevity, ease of sampling, and abundant research on their distribution and reaction to various environmental pressures contribute to the widespread acceptance of their value as ecological indicators.
The macroalgal communities of Cystoseira respond to human interactions by losing species. This loss of species is typically associated with a decrease in the richness and structure of the communities because large perennial species (category of plant life that live for more than two years and can live indefinitely for many years in some species) are lost and are replaced by more opportunistic ones.
Vermetid reefs (a biogenic formation bordering the rocky coast at tide level) also provide key ecosystem functions and services by protecting the shoreline from wave erosion, acting as a carbon sink, and providing nursery and refuge habitats for many diverse species, including invertebrates and fish of commercial interest.
In a 2019 report, Badreddine conducted an assessment on the presence of living vermetids Dendropoma anguliferum and Vermetus triquetrus (two species of sea snails), which shape the vermetid reef and associated communities. The research concluded that no living vermetid reefs (sea snails) were recorded in the impacted sites in proximity to heavy anthropogenic activities.
These findings raise concerns about the health of vermetid reefs in the near future, and demand a call for management and conservation actions to preserve this reef-building species in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Suez Canal: A Corridor for Invasive Species
Lebanon experienced major environmental changes over the past two hundred years, along with the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Several marine creatures can now migrate from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal, which was inaugurated in 1869.
Lessepsian migration (of invasive species), so named after Ferdinand de Lesseps, who built the Suez Canal, is a phenomenon that occurs today, as numerous invasive species moved from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
On top of the invasive species threat, oil and gas explorations in offshore Lebanon, coastal development, fisheries, plastic pollution, and ocean warming are new threats to the maritime environment.
As a result, Lebanese marine ecosystems are witnessing dramatic and rapid coastal deterioration.
A Sea Turtle Haven
Professor Badreddine studied and monitored sea turtles’ nesting behaviors and hatchlings for years to better understand their behavior and life cycle. A whole session of the training was dedicated to these species.
Two species of marine turtles frequent the Lebanese sea: the loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and the greens (Chelonia mydas). Female loggerheads and green sea turtles lay their eggs on Lebanese sandy beaches, as they do on beaches throughout the Mediterranean.
Scattered along the Lebanese coast, researchers study the nesting sites of many important marine turtles.
In the north, there is only one site - the Palm Island Reserve - with a moderate frequency of marine turtles digging nests and laying eggs on the beaches of the islet.
In the south, there are three important marine turtle nesting sites (Al-Mansouri, Al-Abbasiyeh and Al-Addousiyeh), with the latter earning the highest number of nests, with 18 belonging to the loggerheads and 2 green turtles as of a 2019 report.
*Marine turtle nests have not been monitored since 2005 on the Al-Abbasiyeh and Al-Addousiyeh sites.
However, there are a number of factors exacting pressure on Al-Addousiyeh beach which are harming marine turtles, particularly their ability to nest:
Livestock land bordering the beaches;
Pesticide run-off from agriculture;
Presence of foxes, stray dogs, jackals, and crabs;
Light and noise pollution, especially during the sea turtles’ nesting season in the summer, coming from the neighboring buildings, camping, and tourists on this beach;
Recreational vehicles (e.g. ATV);
Illegal fishing methods (e.g. dynamite).
Marine Conservation Policy Interventions
While there are a lot of threats, Lebanon has numerous policies to protect marine ecosystems:
The Barcelona Convention 1976, signed by Lebanon in 1976. The contracting parties pledged to “prevent, abate, combat and to the fullest possible extent eliminate pollution of the Mediterranean Sea Area and to protect and enhance the marine environment in that Area so as to contribute towards its sustainable development.”
The Mediterranean Action Plan law, (UNEP) 1975, which strives to protect the environment and to foster sustainable development in the Mediterranean basin.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea signed in 1995 by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) of Lebanon. The convention establishes rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.
The Decision of the MoA (no. 125/1 of 23/9/1999) banning the fishing of cetaceans, whales, monk seals, and marine turtles as well as selling, use, or trade of any derivatives from the mentioned species.
However, the current economic meltdown, weak rule of law, and lack of good governance threatens marine ecosystem protections.
"While this was not my first visit to Tyre, it was my first trip there in terms of biodiversity and ecological preservation”. Said Bachir Nakhal, a professional scuba diver from Lebanon and one of the attendees during the training day at the reserve, reflected on the training.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to learn, gain experience, and exchange knowledge about the richness, natural wonders, and diversity of our region. There are a lot of things that we are unaware of. To maintain and preserve this natural legacy, it is up to us to have a thorough grasp of the area in which we reside.”