Title: Sustainable management of marine turtles in Palm Islands Nature Reserve and its surroundings through elimination of threats and promotion of community benefits.

Country: Lebanon

MPA: Palm Islands Nature Reserve

Beneficiary: Palm Islands Nature Reserve Committee (PINRC)

Partner: Lebanese Ministry of Environment

Thematic: Sustainable management of marine turtles

Period of implementation (year): 2018-2019

Duration: 16 months

Total budget: 27 400 €

MedPAN financing: 20 000 €

Context

The Palm Islands Nature Reserve (PINR), created in 1992, covers 3 islands northwest of Tripoli: Sanani, Ramkine and Palm. The reserve is managed by the Palm Islands Nature Reserve Committee (PINRC) under the supervision of the Lebanese Ministry of Environment.

The PINR includes feeding and nesting habitats for sea turtles. In particular, Loggerhead Turtle nests are frequently found in the reserve and on mainland beaches opposite the reserve. However, the degradation of beaches (e.g. sand extraction, presence of waste) and poaching negatively impact the probability of occurrence and success of nesting events.

Sea turtles hunting is banned in Lebanon. Sea turtles are also protected by the Action Plan and policies of the Management Plan for PINR, and by Lebanon’s Marine Protected Area Strategy (El Shaer et al. 2012). In a larger context, the protection of marine turtles is encouraged by protocols of the Barcelona Convention and Convention of Biological Diversity to which the Lebanese government has complied.

In 2001, the Lebanese government, in partnership with SPA/RAC, launched a major campaign to identify and monitor potential spawning sites, with the aim of establishing a national action plan for marine turtle conservation in Lebanon. However, Palm Island Natural Reserve (PINR) was not involved in this campaign.

MedPAN Small Project

The general objective of this project was to contribute to a Mediterranean effort to improve the conservation status of marine turtles by limiting anthropogenic pressures on turtles and their habitats. The specific objectives of the project included:

  • developing a collaborative group of individuals and institutions for sea turtle conservation in PINR and mainland beaches opposite the reserve;
  • raising the awareness of the local population, including fishers, security officers, concerned management authorities, NGOs, etc. and offering trainings on sea turtles monitoring;
  • supporting community-based monitoring as well as the development of ecotourism in PINR and surroundings;
  • reducing poaching by increasing law enforcement;
  • mitigating the impact of habitat deterioration with nests relocation;
  • disseminating information and experiences gained during this project to other MPAs.

This project aimed to involve the local population in conservation actions and to increase communication on the benefits, including for tourism activities, that the presence of the turtles can generate, so that inhabitants become ambassadors of their protection.

Key outputs

Monitoring (identification of threats and mapping of nesting sites)

After identifying the stakeholders that may have an interest in and impact on the project activities, officially launching the project at a press conference, and reviewing the existing literature on marine turtles in Lebanon, PINRC coordinated a survey on threats and development activities that may affect marine turtle nesting. More than 40 interviews with community members were done, to ask about visions and development plans in the coastal area opposite PINR (around Tripoli, between Beddawi and Chekka, North Lebanon). No development project was foreseen. Threats identified included: recreational activities (jet ski), disturbance to nesting or breeding individuals, habitat loss and illegal killing (dynamite, fishing nets, poison). A stakeholder workshop was held on October 11th 2018 to discuss and make recommendation on how to eliminate or mitigate the threats identified.

Representation of the main threats to marine turtles in PINR and nearby coastal area
Representation of the main threats to marine turtles in PINR and nearby coastal area

In parallel, PINRC organised a training for managers and volunteers on detecting nests and identifying species in July 2018 (cf. Training report on identification and monitoring). Three persons were then appointed to run surveys searching for nests on the sandy beaches of PINR and mainland from May to August of 2019. The surveys were designed to assess the distribution of marine turtles, monitor and protect the nesting sites, and increase local community involvement. Nesting activities were noted from early July 2019. A total of 17 nests of Loggerhead Turtle were found in the study area (10 nests on Palm Islands and 7 nests on the mainland).

Map of Loggerhead Turtle nests found
Map of Loggerhead Turtle nests found

PINRC also approached the Army and the Interior Security Forces seeking their support to reduce sea turtles’ killings in north Lebanon. Once informed about the values of sea turtles, it was agreed that the Army and Security Forces would stop poachers and confiscate their boats when alerted by a ranger of the reserve via the telephone of the Marine Chamber in Tripoli. Thanks to this initiative, the number of poachers decreased by 32% (according to the security forces) and the number of fishermen releasing bycatches increased by 14% (according to reports from the Fishermen Order).

Based on the map of nests found in PINR and mainland beaches, an assessment of relocation needs was made using the upper line of high tide. The assessors check if nests were endangered by water splashes and inundation by tides (should be at least 3 m of the upper line of high tide). Relocation guiding notes describe the protocol to follow for relocation in the case of endangered nests. It is recommended to dog the nest up, count the eggs and relocate them to a higher location on the beach slope or to a safer area. In this case, no relocation was needed. Disturbance caused by human activities can also be a reason for relocation.

Cage for turtle nest protection
Cage for turtle nest protection

Awareness raising

PINRC organised several activities to raise awareness among the community about the benefits of sea turtle conservation. Representatives of Ministries and Municipalities, inhabitants of El Mina and Tripoli, fishermen, school children and visitors were involved in beach clean-up events and nests monitoring and protection tours.

A leaflet “All about sea turtles in Lebanon” on sea turtles distribution, life cycle, protection and conservation was distributed to all stakeholders.

Two beach clean-up campaigns were organised, during which debris from sandy beaches such as shattered glasses, plastic litter, construction rubble, and uprooted sea plants or pieces of wood making barriers to the advancement of sea turtles for nesting, were removed. Participants received information on the risks that these debris represent for marine turtle nesting.

Beach cleaning campaign
Beach cleaning campaign

The project especially targeted fishermen as their activity may have a strong influence on marine turtle conservation. Poachers which were stealing turtle eggs, because they were commonly known as aphrodisiac, were instructed that turtles are beneficial to human being because they eat jellyfish and that their eggs may contain high concentrations of cadmium, lead, iron, copper and zinc. The three person which undertook the surveys searching for nests originated from fishermen families, thereby increasing their involvement and education about marine turtles.

Recommendations

The involvement of the local community in the project activities was successful in reducing the threats on marine turtles and increase the acceptance of ecotourism activities development. The project helped raise awareness among fishermen and leisure boat owners, which were poorly educated on environmental protection/ conservation subjects, on the possibility to increase their revenue using marine turtle conservation as an asset to entertain and educate visitors.

The PINRC had to be cautious in their nest protection activities, to not increase poaching by indicating nests locations. PINRC therefore used limited signalisation, and rather invested their time and effort in awareness raising, with the beach clean-up events and nests monitoring and protection tours.

What’s next?

Based on the results of this study and the marine turtle national report prepared by RAC/SPA-MOE in 2001, PINRC and the Ministry of Environment can prepare an updated map of marine turtle breeding sites at the national level. To complete this map over time, a surveyor should be appointed to continue searching for and monitoring turtle nests during the next seasons. The PINRC would also like to invite people who participated in their trainings to volunteer in the 2020 surveying season, against free transportation and lunch, in particular for guiding tourists.

National Turtle Day on May 15th may be turned into a beach clean-up day to raise awareness about marine turtle conservation in the country.

The relationship between PINRC and the army and security forces and the law enforcement system established during this project should be kept and strengthen to end poaching and protect nests.

Protected Areas Laws April 2019: Protected Areas Committees now allowed to collect entrance fees, increasing staff and logistical capacity.

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