Tunisian conservation after the Arab Spring


This video says about itself:

20 January 2017

Watch our short documentary about the Bou Hedma National Park! in June 2016 we released this short film “Forgotten places of Tunisia – Wild Bou Hedma”. It is an appeal to save this unique wild habitat and endangered species.

The Bou Hedma NP has never enjoyed a fraction of the support it deserves from government. It has always been treated as an afterthought, falling victim to the misguided philosophy that it should cost very little to maintain a mountain range, an acacia savannah or threatened native wildlife species.

Please share this video and help to save one of Tunisia’s last wild and exceptional habitats. The park is not going to survive unless we can convince more people of its value. I think we need to make a better case that Bou Hedma NP needs more resources, more love, more attention and more active scientists and researchers. We should not let things come so far as to be lost forever.

By Shaun Hurrell:

11 Aug 2017

After the Arab Spring: Learning to love nature again

From “protect by punishment” to “protect by involving people”: read about the peaceful revolution that is changing nature conservation in North Africa and the Middle East

Our relationship with nature is dependent on more than the way the wind blows and the flowers bloom. During a period of societal turmoil, for example, nature can become an unlikely political symbol.

In Tunisia, Awatef Abiadh saw it happen during the Arab Spring: “The Protected Area system was established by the government without any consultation with local communities”, she says. “Declared by law. Full-stop.”

As such, during the Tunisian revolution, people turned their resentment of an oppressive regime to collateral damage. “Locals ransacked Ichkeul, Bouhedma and Chaambi National Parks, taking threatened species like oryx and gazelle, and cutting many trees in anger against the government”, she recalls.

For Abiadh, this showed there was a lack of harmony between local people and nature across the region, and today inspires her work for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), which has invested in bringing people together for conservation in the Mediterranean for the last five years.

“I grew up in the countryside in Kairouan where I learned my first lessons about nature,” says Abiadh. “We needed to use and exploit nature to earn our life, but we loved it and kept it close.”

Abiadh started a career as a teacher, but in 2007 whilst working as a lecturer, she became involved with a series of wildlife surveys on Tunisian islands, because her supervisor was seasick and suggested she go instead.

Volunteering and a passion for conservation followed, and today she works as the Programme Officer for North Africa for the CEPF Mediterranean Hotspot, granting projects and helping non-governmental organisations (NGOs), large and new, with their social and environmental challenges.

“Since we started in the hotspot, we have contributed to a 180-degree change in conservation, from ‘protect by punishment’, to ‘protect by involving more local peoplee’”, she says.

The project closest to her heart, and family home, is led by Notre Grand Bleu (NGB; “Our Big Blue”), a local group of nature enthusiasts and divers that emerged out of the Arab Spring into a fully-fledged NGO, and were granted by CEPF to protect the Kuriat Islands – and their Endangered turtles – from bad tourist management and fishing.

Kuriat is a positive story of hope, where NGB succeeded in forming the first ever co-managed committee for nature conservation in Tunisia. Jamel Jrijer, NGB, said: “Engaging locals in conservation activities gives them a sense of belonging and creates commitment to good environmental practice.”

Together with 18 stakeholders including government, research, tourism, and fishing, NGB are close to creating a Marine Protected Area that everyone is behind. Whilst the Arab Spring helped mobilise North African civil society, some organisations of course already existed.

AREA-ED, in neighbouring Algeria, was founded in 1998 and has worked to create the National Parks Babor and Tadabort, providing crucial high-altitude habitat for an endemic and Critically Endangered Algerian fir tree, resident fluffy monkeys, barbary macaque (Endangered), and bark-climbing Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti (Endangered) – all threatened by fire, illegal logging and overgrazing.

A CEPF project in 2014 allowed AREA-ED to work in new ways. “Both of these projects are the first times a participatory approach has been used in creating protected areas in North Africa,” says Abiadh. One lesson that has emerged from all 106 CEPF grants in the Mediterranean is that nature conservation is a powerful way of bringing diverse people together, and even just time spent in nature can be transformational for some.

When you see the smiles on people’s faces at a turtle hatchling release on the Kuriat Islands, it’s easy to understand; but perhaps nowhere is it more important than in trying to rebuild a country in civil war: Libya. …

Despite a low level of species endemism (4% unique to the country) Libya certainly has some great natural assets. With nearly 200 km of Mediterranean coast and a vast semi-arid region leading to the Sahara Desert, there are coral reefs, ponds and mangroves; plus salt marshes and mud flats for migratory birds. “Ecotourism is a realistic opportunity for Libya once conditions allow,” says Abiadh.

Sadly, ever since NATO’s 2011 war on Libya, conditions clearly do not allow.

“Wherever people have free time, they enjoy spending it in nature. In Tunisia, we have ecotourism projects that are still receiving a lot of local visitors, and from abroad e.g. Algeria.”

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One thought on “Tunisian conservation after the Arab Spring

  1. Pingback: Tunisian women’s victory | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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