Issuu on Google+

Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

SEA TURTLE MONITORING AND PUBLIC AWARENESS IN SOUTH LEBANON 2005 H. Cross1 and S. Bell2 1

Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (CEEC), School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich (UK) 2 Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles (MEDASSET) 1C Licavitou Street, 10672 Athens (GR)

INTRODUCTION The importance of Lebanon's coasts for sea turtle nesting was discovered in 2001 through a coastal nesting survey conducted through MEDASSET's ongoing conservation programme in the Eastern Mediterranean. Surveys in 2001 (Demirayak et al., 2002) and 2004 (Kasparek, 2004) of the Lebanese coast showed that while nesting is sparsely distributed along parts of the northern coast and scattered on several developed beaches, southern nesting sites are more important both nationally and regionally. Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are widespread along the coast of Lebanon and medium-density nesting has been observed at specific sites. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is far less common, with nesting confined to the less developed beaches in the south of the country. Monitoring on the southern Lebanese beaches of El Mansouri, El Aabbassiye and the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve (TCNR), which are situated along a 20km stretch of coast to the north and south of the ancient Phoenician port of Sour (Tyre) (Figure 1), has provided useful data (Table 1). Nesting on monitored beaches in South Lebanon ranges from 37 to 70 Caretta nests and from 0 to 16 Chelonia nests per year (Cross et al., 2006). However, as systematic surveying commenced only four years ago nesting numbers are not necessarily representative. Long-term monitoring is required before population size can be accurately assessed. Strengthening management capacity and increasing public awareness of Lebanon’s scarce protected coastal areas were also broader goals of this research. Throughout 22 years of Israel’s occupation and since the withdrawal in May 2000, southern Lebanon has remained socially and economically isolated from the north. As tourists begin to return, urban sprawl, uncontrolled private investment and poorly planned tourist developments are threatening this vulnerable coastline (Newbury et al., 2002). Investigating coastal conservation strategies in southern Lebanon, in collaboration with the MedWetCoast Program, could develop positive approaches for future coastal zone management, sustainable development and increased public involvement.


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

Figure 1. Map of Lebanon showing location of research sites.

This paper relates to the fieldwork conducted during the 2005 nesting and hatching season on these southern beaches. Fieldwork was supported by the MedWetCoast project managed by the Lebanese Ministry of Environment and partly funded by UNEP’s Regional Activity Centre Specially Protected Area (RAC SPA) based in Tunisia. Key habitats were monitored on a daily basis throughout the nesting season and Lebanese representatives were trained in conservation techniques with the aim of providing them with the necessary skills to continue field and conservation work independently in the future. Apart from various public awareness campaigns, studies were carried out on two significant threats to turtles coming to nest in Lebanon – light pollution at the TCNR and fisheries interaction at the Port of Tyre. Public awarenessraising activities were conducted throughout the season, informing fishermen, young people and locals of the importance of the nesting turtles to themselves, their country, the Mediterranean and the world. Sea turtles in the Mediterranean and Lebanon Mediterranean loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) nest predominantly in Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Libya (Margaritoulis et al., 2003; Laurent, 1998), with much lower numbers nesting on the shores of Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Egypt and Tunisia. The species is classified worldwide as endangered under the IUCN Red List (IUCN, 2004). Total nesting effort of C. caretta in the Mediterranean ranges from 3,375 to 7,985 nests per season (Margaritoulis et al., 2003). However, these numbers are considered to be minimum figures, as they exclude nests outside monitored areas or in countries where regular monitoring has not yet begun (e.g. Libya).


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

Beach El Aabbassiye TCNR El Mansouri Total

Length (m) 1,670 1,714 1,400 5,384

Number of seasons 3 2 4

Survey type weekly* daily daily

Min – Max Caretta 42 – 101 01 – 92 334 – 511 37 - 70

Min – Max Chelonia 01 – 92 02 –11 01 – 63 0 – 16

Table 1. Estimation of annual nesting effort in South Lebanon. TCNR = Tyre Coast Nature Reserve. Min - Max = number of nests per season (from Cross et al, 2006). Data derived from: 2005 survey1; Aurregi et al., 20052; Khalil et al., in press3; St John et al., 20044; Newbury et al., 20025. *For 2003 and 2004 monitoring surveys were conducted weekly, 2005 was the first year they were conducted daily.

Green turtles (Chelonia mydas), endangered throughout the world and critically endangered in the Mediterranean (IUCN, 2004), have a significantly smaller nesting population located on certain beaches in Turkey, Cyprus (Kasparek et al., 2001) and Syria (Rees et al., in press). Annual Mediterranean green turtle nesting effort ranges between 350 and 1,750 nests per year. An estimate of 115–580 nesting females per season can be calculated from this figure, by dividing nest numbers by 3, the estimated average number of nests a female lays each season (Kasparek et al., 2001). On a global scale both species are mainly threatened by building development on their nesting habitats and by destructive fishing practices and pollution (Spotila, 2004). STUDY AREA El Mansouri El Mansouri is the most significant sea turtle nesting rookery identified in Lebanon to date. The bay, which measures 1.4km, is located away from the village centre with a few farms and houses in close vicinity. The beach is close to Lebanon’s southern border; as a result it has been protected from extensive disturbance and development. The proximity of the border has also made night monitoring impossible, so no data regarding nesting turtle population parameters can be gathered (size/age structure, nesting intervals within the season or number of years between nesting events). El Mansouri was first identified by Mona Khalil (a local resident and landowner) as a turtle-nesting site in 1999. Since 2001, conservation activities have been conducted under the guidance of MEDASSET. Mona has been trained in internationally recognised techniques of survey and conservation and works alongside Habiba Sayed. El Mansouri, despite its importance as a sea turtle nesting rookery, does not enjoy official protection. However, the developing relationship with the local municipality is steadily generating public support for the work involved. El Aabbassiye Measuring 1.67km in length on the northern coast of Tyre town, El Aabbassiye beach boasts the only undisturbed sand dune system in Lebanon. The area consists of white and fixed grey dunes with dune thickets (Kasparek, 2004), a habitat type that does not occur anywhere else in the country and hosts a rich diversity of flora and fauna. However, the beach is not officially protected and is threatened by land ownership disputes and development plans for the area. El Aabbassiye has high conservation


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

priority, as it is the second most important nesting beach in Lebanon, at high risk of development and home to a unique ecosystem and nesting green turtles. Tyre Coast Nature Reserve Located south of the city, the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve (TCNR), a 1.71km beach, has been officially protected since 1998. TCNR was monitored for the second successive year, as a collaborative effort between MEDASSET and the MedWetCoast project. The Reserve is effectively divided in two by the Rashidieh Palestinian Settlement, which houses some 7,000 displaced people. To the north of the settlement is a 1.7km stretch of beach consisting of fine sand, which has been zoned according to habitat type (Tourist and Conservation Zones). The Municipality manages part of the tourist zone; they mechanically compact the sand at the beginning of each holiday season to install collapsible beach kiosks. The kiosks are used by restaurant proprietors who are charged a variable fee by the municipality. In 2005 a total of 60 restaurant kiosks operated, a reduction of more than 80 over the previous two seasons. This reduction is a direct result of the MedWetCoast project lobbying against plans to increase the number of beach kiosks. The distance between kiosks and the shoreline has also increased over the last three seasons, reducing the effects of light pollution and disturbance to sea turtles. The remaining part of the tourist zone is used for sports, public events, camping and parking. The reserve’s Conservation Zone, with partially restricted access, remains unspoilt and consists of fine sand with small dunes, hosting a variety of vegetation types. A small wetland within the dunes provides critical habitat for many amphibians and freshwater reptile species, flowering plants and grasses, and migratory and passerine birds. Areas south of the Rashidieh refugee camp were not monitored as they were rocky and thus unsuitable for turtle nesting. Despite not hosting significant nesting numbers, the MedWetCoast requested special emphasis to be placed on the TCNR, as it is the only mainland coastal Nature Reserve. Investigating coastal conservation strategies and management as well as methods of public involvement here could encourage sustainable development in other coastal areas threatened with development. METHODOLOGY Morning monitoring surveys were conducted daily at all three sites between 17th June and 26th September. Work began at 6am before tracks were erased by human activity and was carried out by a minimum of two people. Data were collected relating to the number of tracks found and the species of turtle: • Predator tracks were recorded. • Nests were identified and marked and their positions measured against beach landmarks. Distance between egg chamber and vegetation line was recorded. • Egg chambers were covered with a metal grid; the sides of the mesh were secured into the sand using wooden sticks gathered on the beach. • Nest sites were checked daily for signs of predation, disturbance and hatching. • Nest excavations were carried out for three days following the first signs of hatchling emergence. Data were gathered on hatching success through the number of empty shells, size of developing embryo in relation to yolk sac and the number of dead hatchlings.


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

Green turtle tracks on El Mansouri beach. © MEDASSET 2004. Photo by M. Aureggi.

Protection of nests against predation with wire mesh cages on El Aabbassiye beach. © MEDASSET 2005. Photo by H. Cross.


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

Green turtle nesting at El Mansouri beach. Š MEDASSET 2000. Photo by M. Khalil.

2005 NESTING ACTIVITY On El Mansouri, 51 loggerhead turtle nests were observed in 2005. This represented an increase in nests from the previous year, thus following the apparent upward trend, which has continued since monitoring began in 2001. However, no green turtles nested on this beach during the 2005 season, a notable decrease (from six in 2004). On El Aabbassiye, a total of 20 loggerhead emergences were recorded, ten of which resulted in nests. Delays in delivery of nest protection material resulted in the predation of five nests by feral dogs. Following this, remaining nests were protected using wire mesh cages. The remaining five nests hatched with an average success rate of 65%, and an average clutch size of 86 eggs. Although only one turtle, a green, nested on the Tyre Coast Reserve in 2005, the MedWetCoast Project requested this area to be investigated and protected due to lack of comprehensive data records and its designated nature reserve status. The one emergence represented a significant drop in nesting effort from the previous season when nine loggerhead turtle nests were observed. However, this cannot be viewed as indicating a permanent decline, given the periodicity with which turtles nest and the fact that 2005 was only the second year of monitoring in the TCNR. Regular monitoring over many seasons is needed to accurately understand population fluctuations. This one nesting event was the first documented nesting of the critically endangered Mediterranean green turtle to be observed in the Tyre Coast Reserve. The total nesting recorded for loggerhead turtles has increased year by year since monitoring began (Figure 2), although this may reflect a more thorough census technique, rather than an increase in nesting activity. The 2005 season showed a decline in green turtle nesting effort throughout the entire country, with only one nest observed.


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

C.caretta nests 70

C.mydas nests

Number of Nes

60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Year 2002 - 2005

Figure 2. Observed nesting in southern Lebanon since 2002. Sea turtle mortality A total of 8 dead loggerhead turtles were observed in the survey area during the season although it is likely that other fatalities occurred. Only one carapace was missing, suggesting that turtle exploitation for sale of the shell is not the driving force behind these deaths. There was no evidence of entanglement in discarded fishing gear; the exact cause of death was unknown owing to extensive decomposition.

FISHERMEN SURVEY Some 250 artisanal fishing boats depart daily from the modern port of Tyre to fish in the near-shore coastal zone. A community of approximately 600 fishermen support themselves through largely unregulated and often illegal fishing practices. The price of local catch is falling as frozen imports from West Africa take over the market and demand for fresh produce drops. Fishermen interact directly with sea turtles more than any other population group (Gerosa & Aureggi, 2001). Thus, gaining fishermen’s knowledge, assessing levels of turtle interaction and understanding their viewpoints is integral to a successful conservation programme. In the 2005 monitoring programme, 65 fishermen were surveyed using a standardised oral questionnaire. The open-ended questions addressed fishermen’s working conditions, fishing practices, expenses at sea and interactions with turtles. The survey was carried out at the Port of Tyre between 9am and noon, and 3pm and 7pm. An interpreter was provided by the MedWetCoast project, with trust between the fishermen and the main author (HC) having previously been established. Forty-three fishermen reported sighting sea turtles every day in the sandy offshore areas located near the nesting habitat. Sixteen fishermen claimed never to see any turtles. When fishermen were asked to estimate the number of sea turtles seen offshore during


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

the entire nesting season, their answers ranged from only 20 to 10,000! Estimates appeared to have been influenced by the time of day at which fishing was undertaken and by the area visited. Fishermen who left before daybreak and travelled furthest offered the widest range of population estimates. However, neither the consumption of fishermen’s catch by turtles nor the damage to fishing gear was cited as an important factor contributing to low catch in the area. Instead, the growing numbers of new unskilled fishermen were blamed. Respondents expressed concern about illegal fishing practices. Although dynamite fishing is prohibited and law regulates net mesh size, lack of enforcement remains a problem. The majority of those asked felt that dynamite fishing was wrong, for reasons such as (a) it is against the law, (b) it poisons the sea and (c) it destroys all fish. When fishermen were asked how their livelihoods could be improved, more effective law enforcement was the most common response. This included controlling destructive fishing practices. Interestingly, the third most common response for livelihood improvement was to restrict fishing activity during the spawning seasons (March/April and August) allowing fish populations to recover. This frequently stated answer not only showed sensitivity to the problems of over-fishing, but also offered a practical solution. With such high levels of interaction between fishermen and sea turtles, it is essential that once the ‘Sea Turtle Handling Guidebook for Fishermen’ (Gerosa & Aureggi, 2001) becomes available in Arabic, training programmes be conducted in sea turtle handling. This will educate fishermen on how to recuperate turtles caught as bycatch and potentially reduce turtle bycatch mortality rates. Public Awareness Campaign With the support of the MedWetCoast project, a number of activities were conducted in order to raise the profile of turtles in Lebanon, and to educate the people likely to encounter turtles about the value of the species and the need to protect them. Night patrols were conducted with students, tourists, representatives of Government Ministries and UN agencies. Groups of scouts between 12 and 18 years were involved in monitoring and beach cleaning activities. Presentations were given at public events, and the main author became involved in a number of relevant local committees. Regular meetings were held with members of the local community including the town municipality, the fishermen’s syndicate, Ministries of the Environment and Agriculture, local non-governmental groups, beach kiosk managers and hotel owners. Plans are currently underway to distribute MEDASSET’s Educational Kit ‘The Mediterranean Sea: A source of Life’ (Venizelos & Poland, in press), recently published in Arabic, to schools in Lebanon’s Mediterranean coastal zone. This will hopefully help to enhance awareness in Lebanese school children about conservation issues in general, in addition to raising the profile of sea turtles. To investigate whether the low frequency of nests observed in 2005 at the TCNR could be due to light pollution, deterring nesting females and disorientating hatchlings, a pilot information survey on light pollution was conducted. Results from this survey can also assist in developing strategies to enforce minimal light pollution in any future coastal developments in El Aabbassiye and El Mansouri. Restaurant kiosk proprietors were asked if they were aware that the Tyre beach was a nesting area, whether they had seen


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

a turtle and if they knew how to reduce disruption to nesting turtles. The respondents were asked about their business’s lighting – number of lights, colour, style and type of fitting – which was all recorded. Finally, they were asked if they would consider reducing light pollution from their restaurant by (a) decreasing the number of light fittings, (b) using a light shade or (c) changing the bulb colour to non-white (yellow, red or green). All agreed that they would be glad to comply with a change in either colour or style. However, there was some question of who would pay for these alterations and whether they would be made compulsory. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS During the 2005 programme in Lebanon, a number of key objectives were achieved. Two employees of the MedWetCoast project were trained in survey and conservation techniques, representing a vital step forward in the process of capacity building and a move towards ensuring sustainability of the monitoring programme. A draft Action Plan was produced in collaboration with all previous MEDASSET researchers, proposing methods to ensure continued nesting at these critical habitats. This will soon be presented to the Lebanese government. Furthermore, a number of ongoing public awareness activities were continued from previous seasons. In order to build on our understanding of turtle populations in South Lebanon, it is critical to continue monitoring nesting habitats. Future conservation and management strategies depend upon data gathered to influence local authorities, municipalities and developers. It is crucial for the future of sea turtles in Lebanon that development be pursued with awareness of beach ecosystems, and assisting developers to understand these habitats. Land and property owners, site developers and tour operators alike can all benefit from protected beaches, as their key asset – beautiful surroundings – will always attract customers (St John et al., 2004). Environmental Impact Assessments should be conducted before granting permission to any development or activity proposal. Public awareness of the existence and status of the sea turtles in Lebanon has been enhanced through mainstream press articles, television documentaries and presentations. Furthermore, a broader national public awareness campaign about sea turtles and the wider threats posed to biodiversity and the environment is needed. The nesting area of South Lebanon for loggerheads falls within the Margaritoulis (2000) ‘moderate’ nesting category of between 21 and 100 nests on average per season, irrespective of nesting density. Using criteria from Kasparek et al. (2001), the beaches of south Lebanon are considered a nesting area of ‘moderate importance’ for green turtles. Clearly, these nesting beaches should be protected. Although protection already exists in the form of the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve, this does not cover the most important nesting rookery in Lebanon, El Mansouri, nor the beach at El Aabbassiye. It is imperative that moves be made to protect the entire stretch of coast from El Aabbassiye to El Mansouri, as a means of including unmonitored sections where incidental nesting may occur. Creating a single protected area covering all three nesting beaches could however prove problematic with varied status in ownership of the different sections of the coast.


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

Mountains of litter cover parts of the Lebanese coast. © MEDASSET. Photo by M. Demirayak.

South Lebanon is greatly in need of investment, particularly for conservation. The region is under considerable socio-economic strain, so conservation is not seen as a priority. Plans should be linked to people’s livelihoods and education about the social, ecological and financial benefits of maintaining a pristine environment. It is evident that sea turtle conservation in Southern Lebanon cannot be achieved without involvement of all stakeholders and extensive government support. It is necessary to enhance national cooperation by involving governmental and non-governmental bodies, environmental and volunteer groups. However, coordination between all involved parties has proven difficult in the past. In conclusion, it is crucial that existing international and regional agreements and conventions are supported and strengthened ensuring that turtles at all life stages be protected. Improving linkages between all communities, researchers, universities and NGOs involved in turtle conservation around the Mediterranean Sea will reveal how such approaches have worked elsewhere. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The 2005 sea turtle field work and conservation programme in Southern Lebanon was carried out and co-funded by MEDASSET, the Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles and the Project for Conservation of Wetlands and Coastal Ecosystems in the Mediterranean Region (MEDWETCOAST), managed in Lebanon by the Ministry of Environment. It was co-funded by UNEP-MAP Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA). Financial support was also given by the British Chelonia Group (BCG). Special thanks also to BCG for their continuing support of MEDASSET’s activities in Lebanon. Thanks to the staff of the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve (TCNR), the Municipality of Tyre, the Appointed Protected Areas Committee, the Ministry of the Environment and the MedWet Coast Project, with special thanks going to Charbel Rizk and Rania Mroueh. Thanks also to Nasser Ajami (CARITAS: Centre for the Socio-Economic Development of Fishermen) and Khalil Tahar (Director of the Fishing Syndicate for Southern Lebanon). Finally, thanks are due to Lily Venizelos for commenting on the manuscript.


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

REFERENCES Aureggi, M., Rizk, C. & Venizelos, L. (2005). Survey on sea turtle nesting activity South Lebanon, 2004. Joint report of (in alphabetical order) MEDASSET and MEDWESTCOAST. 35pp. < www.medasset.org > Cross, H., Rizk, C., Khalil, M. & Venizelos, L. (2006). Marine Turtle Conservation in the Mediterranean: Population Status and Conservation Activities on Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches in South Lebanon, 2005. Joint Project of (in alphabetical order): British Chelonia Group, FFEM, MEDASSET, MEDWESTCOAST, Ministry of the Environment in Lebanon, RAC/SPA (UNEP-MAP), and UNDP. Demirayak, F., Sadek, R., Hraoui-Bloquet, S. & Khalil, M. (2002). Marine turtle nesting activity assessment on the Lebanon coast. Phase 1: Survey to identify nesting sites and fishery interaction. Joint Project of (in alphabetical order) MEDASSET, Ministry of the Environment in Lebanon, RAC/SPA (MAP-UNEP), 63 pp. Gerosa, G. & Aureggi, M. (2001). Sea Turtle Handling Guidebook for Fishermen. UNEP/MAP RAC/SPA, Tunis. IUCN (2004). 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.redlist.org> Downloaded on 01 November 2005. Kasparek, M., Godley, B.J. & Broderick, A.C. (2001). Nesting of the Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, in the Mediterranean Sea: a review of status and conservation needs. Zoology in the Middle East 24: 45–74, Heidelberg. Kasparek, M. (2004). The Mediterranean Coast of Lebanon: Habitat for endangered fauna and flora. Joint effort by the MSC Project funded by the EU, the MEDWETCOAST Project funded by the French GEF, and MEDASSET, 35pp. Khalil, M., Syed, H., Aureggi, M. & Venizelos, L. (in press). Marine Turtle nesting at El Mansouri, South Lebanon. In: Proceedings of the Second Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles. Antalya, Turkey 4–7 May 2005. Laurent, L. (1998). Review and analysis of the available knowledge of marine turtle nesting and population dynamics in the Mediterranean. UNEP (OCA) MED WG. 145/Inf 3, Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas RAC/SPA, Tunis, 28pp. Margaritoulis, D. (2000). An Estimation of the Overall Nesting Activity of the Loggerhead Turtle in Greece. In: F.A. Abreu-Grobois, R. Briseno-Duennas, R. Marques & L. Sarti (eds). Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-436, pp 48– 49. Margaritoulis, D., Argano, R., Baran, I., Bentivegna, F., Bradai, M.N., Caminas, J.A., Casale, P., De Metrio, G., Demetropoulus, A., Gerosa, G., Godley, B.J., Haddoud, D.A., Houghton, J., Laurent, L., & Lazar, B. (2003). Loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean


Testudo, The Journal of the British Chelonia Group 6(3):13-27

Sea: present knowledge and conservation perspectives. In: A.B. Bolten, B.E. Witherington (eds). Loggerhead Sea turtles. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., pp175–198. Newbury, N., Khalil, M. & Venizelos, L. (2002). Population status and conservation of marine turtles at El-Mansouri, Lebanon. Zoology in the Middle East 27: 47–60. Rees, A.F., Saad, A. & Jony, M. (in press). Discovery of a “major” new nesting area in Syria for the critically endangered Mediterranean Green Turtle. In: Proceedings of the 25th Annual Symposium on sea turtle biology and conservation. 16–22 January 2005, Savannah, USA. Spotila, J. R. (2004). Sea Turtles. A complete guide to their biology, behaviour and conservation. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. St. John, F., Khalil, M. & Venizelos, L. (2004). Marine turtle nesting in South Lebanon 2003. Project by MEDASSET. 18 pages. Venizelos, L. & Poland, R. (in press). Environmental Awareness and Education: Keys to Conservation. In: Proceedings of the Second Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles. Antalya, Turkey 4–7 May 2005.


Sea Turtle Monitoring and Public Awareness in South Lebanon 2005