Bikinis are thriving but Lebanon's sea turtles are no longer on the beach
The number of sea turtle nests laid on the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve dropped by half this year (Photo: Maikulian)
The number of sea turtle nests laid on the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve dropped by half from about ten to just five this year, raising concerns among conservationists that the threatened animals may be losing the battle for survival.
Reserve director Hassan Hamza described this nesting season as “weak,” but added that the small number of nests does not necessarily indicate a severe drop in population. He explained that the turtles’ normal breeding cycle is one to two years, resulting in peak and off-peak years.
Two endangered species – the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) – lay their eggs on Lebanon’s beaches. Last summer, a number of sea turtles died on Tyre’s shores due to pollution and problems arising from litter. A decrease in the population could lead to an imbalance in the marine ecosystem.
Nesting season usually lasts from May to October, with turtles returning to the place of their birth under the cover of darkness to dig a hole in the sand in which to lay their eggs. When the young turtles hatch, they head instinctively towards the sea, but can be fatally distracted by bright lights and noise.
Because the nests are beset by many dangers, a specialized team from the reserve continuously combs the beach to locate the nests, count them, observe them and protect them from human and animal attacks by fencing them in.
Collecting sea turtle eggs was reportedly quite profitable when soldiers from the island of Fiji served as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) until 2000. Some residents of Tyre’s coastal areas would collect sea turtle eggs – considered the most famous Fijian dish – and take them to their headquarters on the coast of Qlaili where the soldiers would pay exorbitant amounts of money for them.
To protect the eggs and guarantee easy movement for the turtles, the nature reserve management has struck agreements with resort owners along the coastline to protect nesting areas during breeding season.
Scientists from Italy collaborated with the reserve to organize lectures for local scientists, to raise awareness and provide guidance about the turtles’ value to the ecosystem and the need to protect them. These lectures stressed the importance of not polluting the sea and reducing light and noise in areas where turtles nest.
The reserve also spearheaded an awareness program for fishermen stressing the importance of keeping the sea clean and not throwing away oil or nylon bags that resemble turtles’ natural prey, jellyfish, and can end up choking the animals.
Sea turtles also sometimes get caught in nets and fishman are tempted to kill them to cut them out.
The nature reserve management is trying to create a permanent observatory to observe the turtle’s movement along the southern coast from Tyre to Naqoura. Their goal, they say, is to protect the sea turtles, welcome volunteers, train them and encourage tourists to visit the area.
Are the efforts of the nature reserve enough to protect Lebanon's sea turtles? Leave us your comments below!