Saharan silver ants, short-legged but world’s fastest

This 29 October 2019 video says about itself:

Watch Saharan silver ants run | Science News

Slowed-down videos of silver ants on a portable runway in the Sahara sun show how the synchronized movements of three legs at a time let the ants achieve high speeds. As an ant runs, a trio of legs (the right front, right rear and left middle circled) touch down only briefly (white circles, ground phase) and then swing forward rapidly (black circles, swing phase). The final video clip shows an ant rushing by in real-time.

By Susan Milius in Science News, October 29, 2019 at 12:26 pm:

Saharan silver ants are the world’s fastest despite relatively short legs

At top speeds, these scavengers basically gallop, with all six legs in the air at once

The world’s newly crowned fastest known ants don’t look as if they’ve got the legs to be champs.

Saharan silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina) have merely runner-up proportions, with legs about 18 percent shorter than those of a related desert ant (C. fortis). Yet adjusting for body length, video shows silver ants rushing along about twice as fast as their leggier cousins.

Sarah Pfeffer of the University of Ulm in Germany and colleagues took a high-speed video camera to Tunisia to get that video of the shorter ants in their hot and sandy home. At an oasis on the northern edge of the great dunes, the researchers searched for glimpses of silver.

Tiny silver hairs coat the ants, reflecting some of the sun’s glare and shedding heat (SN: 6/22/15). When Pfeffer, an applied neuroethologist, digs out a nest to study, several thousand ants seething in her transport box look “like quicksilver,” she says.

That silvery protection comes in handy because the ants stay in their nests at night and scavenge for food in the furnace of midday. “The sun really burns down,” Pfeffer says. Surface sand temperatures can soar over 60° Celsius (about 140° Fahrenheit). Even at ant heights, the air is still brutal.

Silver ants, however, get two bonuses for foraging in the worst of the heat. It’s a great time to find fresh carcasses of creatures that the sun fried but that heat-averse scavengers haven’t found yet. Also, ant-hungry predators often take shelter from the heat, so silver ants are less likely to become lunch themselves.

To see how those shortish legs can run through hell, Pfeffer set up an outdoor open-topped metal runway dusted with sand. She then offered a free lunch for ants. “They love mealworms,” she says. As ants rushed along the runway, Pfeffer got high-speed film of the step details. The shorter legs compensate by packing more strides into each second, up to 47 for the silver ants running at top speed versus 36 for their taller relatives, the team reports October 16 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Pfeffer clocked speeds as high as 855 millimeters per second. That’s 108 times a silver ant’s body length in a second.

The camera picked up six legs moving in two groups of triplets, like alternating tripods. At higher speeds, an ant gets airborne for just an instant with no legs touching the ground. In horses, that’s galloping. Pfeffer describes it as gliding, since the ants zoom forward smoothly instead of galumphing.

That glide is fast enough to crown the dune dwellers as the fastest ant known so far, though not the fastest insect. They’re beaten, in terms of body lengths per second, by tiny mites in southern California. Young Paratarsotomus macropalpis can zoom across concrete around three times as fast (SN: 6/12/14).

Migrants drown off Tunisia

This 23 July 2019 video says about itself:

Tunisia struggling to bury drowned migrants

The port city of Zarzis in Southern Tunisia is struggling to find a resting place for migrants who drowned at sea trying to reach Europe.

Zarzis is overwhelmed in its efforts to bury drowned migrants.

“Why only Zarzis? Because in Zarzis culture we can’t leave bodies. It’s sad, but these people could be our sister, our mother, our father, our children. And in Zarzis, we have young people who have been shipwrecked at sea. And we know how it feels to have someone drowned at sea”, said Deputy Zarzis Mayor, Faouzi Khenissi.

The Gabès hospital receives these bodies and is the only one in the region with the capacity to take DNA samples.

“For the Gabès Regional Hospital there are fears that this number and this situation will recur at the hospital and in the Gabès region. Our fear is that there is no plan. We need a plan. A group is needed to deal with these disasters that may happen again in the future”, said Hospital Director, Hechmi Lakhrech.

The port city of Zarzis is appealing for international support.

“An international appeal. Help us. The municipality of Zarzis is at its limits. We have limited means. We cannot afford to do better than this”, he added.

On July 1, more than 80 bodies were recovered on the Tunisian coast between the port city of Zarzis and Djerba in the south of the country.

On July 12, 45 more bodies were retrieved in a day. The Red Crescent said the country is struggling to support rescued migrants and even more so those who died.

Tunisians protest against bloody Saudi crown prince

This 27 November 2018 video says about itself:

🇹🇳’No to the murderer‘: More protests in Tunisia against MBS visit | Al Jazeera English

Hundreds of Tunisians protested against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s arrival to Tunis, in the latest leg of his visit of Middle Eastern nations.

This is his first trip outside of Saudi [Arabia] since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, on October 2. Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal reports from Tunis.

Protests erupt in Tunisia after self-immolation of journalist Abderrazak Zorgui: here.

Tunisians protest against Saudi Arabian crown prince

This 24 November 2018 video says about itself:

Tunisia protesters call for cancellation of MBS visit

Protesters in Tunisia are pressuring the government to cancel a planned visit by the Saudi crown prince, because of his suspected involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Activists and demonstrators are pointing to Tunisia’s role in the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions

strongly opposed by the Saudi absolute monarchy, which bloodily suppressed them in their own country and in Bahrain. The dictator of Tunisia then fled to Saudi Arabia.

and the juxtaposition of Mohammed bin Salman’s suspected role in the murder of the journalist, as well as the arrests of dozens of Saudi civil and political activists. But the cash-strapped Tunisian government is warning the protests could stop much-needed financial aid from the kingdom. Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra reports.

African desert ants smell very well

This video says about itself:

BBC Silver Desert Ant, Cataglyphis, Sahara Desert

Clip from BBC’s Africa, episode 5, Sahara, 2013, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Includes behind the scenes footage.

From the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany:

Desert ants have an amazing odor memory

The insects can learn many food odors and remember them all their lives

September 24, 2018

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology used behavioral experiments to show that desert ants are able to quickly learn many different food odors and remember them for the rest of their lives. However, their memory for nest odors seems to differ from their food odor memory: Whereas food odors are learned and kept after a single contact, ants need several trials to memorize nest odors. Moreover, ants forget a nest-associated odor very quickly after it has been removed from the nest. Hence, ants process food and nest odors differently in their brains.

The desert ant Cataglyphis fortis has amazing abilities to trace food and to return to its nest in the North African desert. Its sense of smell has a central function for orientation. The ant is not only a master navigator, it is also a memory artist. Behavioral scientists Markus Knaden from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology has been studying the navigational skills of this ant species for years. Until now, he was particularly interested in how the small insects find their way back to their nest after an extensive search for food in the vast salt pans of the Tunisian Sahara. After all, the nest entrance is only a small inconspicuous hole in the desert surface. He and his team found that — apart from other factors — the specific nest odor plays a crucial role. However, during their experiments, the researchers had noticed that ants learned food odors much faster than nest odors. “Our central question was whether different types of memory exist for food and nest search. The idea to compare both learning processes popped up when we observed that the ants were able to learn food odors so incredibly fast in comparison to nest odors which need to be trained much longer”, first author Roman Huber explains.

The scientists developed a simple experiment to test the response of ants to more than 30 different food odors. They held the end of a stick which had been scented with an odor about two meters away from a foraging ant on the ground so that the wind blew the odor to the ant. At first, most odors were ignored by the ants and did not evoke any response. “After we had offered a food crumb to the ants which had been scented with one of these odors, however, the ants were almost always attracted by this odor afterwards”, Markus Knaden says. “We were amazed how quickly the ants learned food-associated odors and how long they could remember them. Even ants that had learned an odor more than 25 days ago were able to remember it.” In nature, most ants have a short life and are usually killed by a predator within six days. Therefore it is particularly astonishing that ants that have reached more than four times the average age could still remember what they had learned.

On the other hand, ants were not able to learn nest-associated odors as quickly as food odors. When the researchers attached a scent to the nest entrance, the ants needed five to ten trials to learn the odor as a nest cue. Only after several trainings did they concentrate their nest search on this odor. When the odor was removed from the nest and after the ants had returned to the nest a few times, they completely stopped responding to the former nest cue. In ants, odors are obviously processed differently in the brain depending on whether they are food or nest cues.

Markus Knaden provides an explanation: “The two different odor memories make sense. During its entire life, an ant encounters many different pieces of food while foraging. Since the insect finds its food mainly through olfactory cues, it is important for an ant to learn the odor of good food in order to specifically search for it later. The nest, in contrast, should always smell the same during an ant’s short life. Therefore no extraordinary memory is needed to locate the nest entrance by following olfactory cues. It is sufficient if an ant knows how the nest smelled when it left to search for food, to find it on its way home. It is unlikely that the nest odor changes while an ant is away foraging.”

The scientists now want to design lab studies to underpin the results of the behavioral experiments in the natural habitat of the desert ants. Their goal is to employ imaging techniques, like calcium imaging, to locate and visualize the different memories in the ant brain and to compare brain activities during food and nest search. “We already use similar techniques for the visualization of brain activity in flies and moths. It would be great to establish these techniques for ants as well, because ants exhibit a particularly complex behavior”, Markus Knaden says.

New research describes the behavioral and chemical strategies of a Florida ant, Formica archboldi, that decorates its nest with the dismembered body parts of other ant species: here.

Tunisians keep fighting austerity

This 13 January 2018 video is called Youth brandish baguettes in Tunisia to protest austerity.

By Alex Lantier and Kumaran Ira:

Thousands march to mark anniversary of Ben Ali’s overthrow in Tunisia

15 January 2018

On Sunday, thousands marched in Tunis to mark the anniversary of the toppling of President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011. That event began the so-called “Arab spring” as only 11 days later a revolutionary movement of the working class erupted in Egypt and toppled another imperialist-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Seven years later, the Arab bourgeoisie has proven incapable of resolving any of the issues that drove workers to rise up in Tunisia and in Egypt.

The Middle Eastern bourgeoisie and its imperialist backers are still consumed by fear of social revolution. Yesterday’s march came after worker protests in Iran and a week of insurrectionary clashes of working-class youth with police, beginning in the old mining belt of southern Tunisia, where the 2011 uprising began.

The new wave of protests was prompted by anger over mass unemployment, corruption and the 2018 finance law. The Tunisian regime responded by sending in the army and jailing 800 people in an effort to crush the movement and ensure that yesterday’s anniversary not lead to a new insurrection.

The official march took place under conditions of a police lockdown. It included the pro-government General Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT) trade union, a key ally of the ruling Nidaa Tounes party, the new name of Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). Only a few thousand people attended the march—far fewer than the numbers of youth who have clashed with police in southern Tunisia and in Tunis since the beginning of the year.

Nonetheless, as France24 reported, even “the high security of an event heavily monitored by police could not hide the rising social anger in Tunisia since the beginning of the year”. The report continued: “Seven years after the departure of Ben Ali, who now lives in Saudi Arabia, many Tunisians say they have won liberties but lost living standards. Among the marchers, more radical slogans rapidly emerged: ‘Government, resign’, ‘The people want to bury the finance law,’ and ‘The country is rising up while the government celebrates the revolution…’”

The 2011 struggle in Tunisia began amid outrage over unemployment and official corruption when Mohamed Bouazizi, a graduate forced to work as a vegetable vendor, burned himself to death after an official confiscated his vegetable cart. The movement was fueled by the emergence of WikiLeaks and its publication of leaked State Department dispatches, including on Tunisia. These showed that US diplomats who in public praised Ben Ali privately dismissed his regime as totally corrupt.

Despite relentless and predictable efforts by Nidaa Tounes and its supporters to present the revolution as a dead end, based on their own record of economic stagnation and repression since 2011, there is rising opposition. Even in the media, the question is being raised of whether a new 2011 could take place. Mohamed Ali, a worker at a tire factory that was privatized for a token price, told reporters at the Tunis protest yesterday: “My problem is not the revolution, it is the government.”

Feres, a high school student in the working class Ettadhamen district of Tunis known as the “heart of the revolution”, described his anger over trying to speak to President Beji Caid Essebsi, a longtime member of Ben Ali’s party, when Essebsi visited Ettadhamen. He said, “We tried to talk to him and the policemen insulted us. Tunisia is our country, but this is not our government. We lie here in poverty and they despise us.”

What is being prepared, in Tunisia and internationally, is a new upsurge of the working class directed against not an individual dictator like Ben Ali or Mubarak, but the capitalist system as a whole. As the International Crisis Group’s Michaël Ayari told Middle East Eye, “The popular proverb saying ‘Ben Ali left but the forty thieves stayed’ is true… If before, the mafia was clearly identified in people’s minds with the Trabelsi clan [i.e., Ben Ali’s family], now it is the state in its entirety that is considered a criminal entity.”

Promoting a national perspective, rooted in affluent sections of the middle class and Tunisia’s pro-government trade union bureaucracy, they blocked any attempt by the workers to seize power in 2011. They tied workers to the perspective of waiting for deals negotiated between the Tunisian state, the international banks and the imperialist powers as they waged war in Libya, Syria and Mali. They adapted to the return to power in 2014 of Ben Ali’s cronies in Nidaa Tounes, which since 2015 has ruled in coalition with the Islamist Nahda party.

In short, they drove the working class and the revolution into a dead end. Now, amid a new upsurge, they do not want a revolution and the taking of power by the working class. They want, at most, to tinker with the existing regime’s policies.

Addressing the official march in Tunis, Hamma Hammami, the leader of the … Popular Front coalition, said: “We will keep putting pressure on the government until it revises the new finance law that makes the poor poorer and the rich richer.”

Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi announced a hike to the welfare budget of 100 millions dinars ($40.2 million), with aid to poor families rising from 150 dinars (50 euros) to 180-210 dinars (60-70 euros) per month. With the monthly minimum wage of 326 dinars (111 euros) covering just two weeks’ shopping for a family of four, however, the proposed 30-to-60-dinar increase is a pittance that will solve nothing.

Tunisian anti-austerity protesters interviewed

Protesters have been demonstrating against a government decision to impose strict economic and tax reforms [photo by Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours in Tunisia today:

Q&A: Tunisia’s protest leaders vow to keep up pressure

Tunis, TunisiaLarge protests broke out across Tunisia this month over a government decision to impose strict economic and tax reforms that increased the price of basic goods.

The anti-austerity protests come as Tunisians mark the seventh anniversary of the fall of longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced from power after a popular revolution in 2011.

Rallies have been held in Tunis, the capital, and elsewhere across the country, led by the civil movement “Fech Nestannew” (What are we waiting for?). Nearly 800 protesters have been arrested, according to United Nations figures, including 200 people between the ages of 15 and 20.

A 2016 deal between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a large reason behind the austerity measures, critics say. The four-year, $2.8bn IMF loan is tied to a promise by the Tunisian government to carry out economic and social reforms.

The government’s 2018 budgetary law, which came into effect this month, has been the focus of protesters’ anger, as it brought price hikes to basic goods, such as food and gas, and the value-added tax.

Al Jazeera spoke to Tunis-based protest organiser Warda Atig, 25, about how the Fech Nestannew movement came about, its demands, and whether the Tunisian government may revise its economic policies.

Al Jazeera: What is the idea behind Fech Nestannew?

Warda Atig: Fech Nestannew is a movement created by Tunisian youth after the government’s finance act of 2018 came into effect. Following this act, the prices went up and the state stopped recruiting for public sector jobs.

That’s why we decided to create this movement, in order to push the government to cancel this financial measure.

Al Jazeera: How did your protests begin and when?

Atig: When we first heard about this law, in November and December of last year, several youth factions from the different progressive political parties organised discussions [about] what the law was and what the impact of the law would be on society.

We were waiting for the government to make the law official and we chose the date of our first action to be January 3. The date is very symbolic because, on January 3, 1984, there was the Intifada al-Khubez (bread uprising) in Tunisia [over an increase in the price of bread].

On January 3, we made a declaration in front of the municipal theatre [on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis] and we distributed pamphlets with our demands. We were about 50 activists.

Al Jazeera: What are those demands?

Atig: We want the government to end the increase in prices, cancel the moratorium on recruiting in the public sector, provide security and healthcare, end privatisation and put forward a national strategy to counter corruption.

These demands [are in response to] decisions taken by the government … [and] they are within the context of the finance act of 2018. So we are asking [the government] to cancel this act.

If they don’t cancel it, they will privatise national companies, they will not fight corruption, they will continue to increase prices. We are explaining to people that we have to say no to this act.

Al Jazeera: Protests have taken place across Tunisia. How did these different regions get involved in your movement and do you have a coordinated strategy?

Atig: First, we created a group on Facebook. Then, there were many reactions from people in other regions. People started to ask themselves, “What are we waiting for?”

People from student unions and other young people who were very active regionally also got involved.

It started here (Tunis) with different groups, including student unions and groups of unemployed graduates. Everyone here helped spread this campaign … and what happened in Tunis happened in all the other regions.

This isn’t only [a movement] for Tunis; it’s for all of Tunisia.

Al Jazeera: The government has accused protesters of looting and engaging in acts of violence. How do you respond to people who have criticised your protests as violent?

Atig: First of all, our campaign has no relation to violence or breaking things.

In Kasserine, the police caught someone while he was giving money to protesters and urging them to break things … This type of thing is known to happen, even during Ben Ali’s time, when people from the ruling party encourage people to commit acts of violence in order to discredit social movements.

The government’s response to our movement has been to arrest us. They broke into our houses in the middle of the night. There are Facebook pages belonging to the ruling parties that distorted our reputations. Even the governmental media tried to give a bad image to our campaign.

Al Jazeera: This movement appears in large part to be led by educated, urban youth. How do you bridge a possible gap between the organisers and the general Tunisian public most affected by the state’s austerity measures?

Atig: The criticism only comes from people who belong to the ruling parties. They say these people of Fech Nestannew belong to the [block of leftist opposition parties called the] Popular Front.

They say, [we] want to take over the authority [and we] want to be in power so that’s why [we] are taking advantage of the people.

But our relationship with regular people is very good. We chose Fech Nestannew, a phrase in the local Tunisian dialect [of Arabic], so it would be easy for everyone to understand.

Al Jazeera: Why do you believe the 2018 finance act is harmful to Tunisians?

Atig: The government itself confessed that the tenets of this act would make people suffer … unemployed people, the poor and workers.

Poor people pay taxes and value-added tax, while they increase the salaries of ministers and members of parliament. Many people who were corrupt during the Ben Ali era were granted pardons in the context of a reconciliation act.

The poor are footing the bill.

Al Jazeera: These anti-austerity protests are coinciding with the anniversary of the 2011 revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Was this done on purpose and if so, do you hope to use the timing to galvanise support?

Atig: January is very famous [for protests] in Tunisia. In 2011, and even last year, there was a movement in January. In addition to that, the finance act came into effect in January. January 3 is also the anniversary of the [1984] bread protests.

All these circumstances contributed to our movement coinciding with the anniversary of the revolution.

Al Jazeera: What happens if the government agrees to cancel the finance law? Will this movement continue?

Atig: If they cancel this finance act, OK, the campaign will dissolve. But if they cancel the act and present the same procedures only under a different name, we will continue.

Al Jazeera: Are you hopeful they will cancel it?

Atig: No. [Laughs]

Al Jazeera: Why not?

Atig: We are doing this in order to make people aware that the ruling people right now are here to enforce the dictates of the IMF. At least we are continuing the revolutionary process.

As long as Tunisia continues these deals with the IMF, we will continue our struggle. We believe that the IMF and the interests of people are contradictory.

Al Jazeera: The Tunisian prime minister recently told people that 2018 will be the last difficult year and after this, things will get better. How do you respond to that?

Atig: We can’t wait any longer.

That’s why we called [our movement], “What are we waiting for?”

Tunisian anti-austerity protests continue

This video says about itself:

Demonstrators demand reversal of Tunisia’s austerity measures

13 January 2018

Fresh scuffles broke out Friday as hundreds of Tunisians took to the streets of the capital and coastal city of Sfax, waving yellow cards. The demonstrators were demanding the government reverse austerity measures. Tunisian authorities said Friday the number of people detained in the wave of protests had risen to nearly 800.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Activists urge Tunisians to take to the streets again against austerity measures

ACTIVISTS called for Tunisians to take to the streets today in the latest series of protests sparked by government austerity measures.

The Interior Ministry said that it had arrested 778 people in several days of demonstrations.

One person has been killed and many injured.

The ministry said it expected the protests to die down, but that seemed unlikely — not least because this weekend marks seven years since the ousting of long-time ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay urged the government today to halt its use of “excessive force” against protesters.

The army has deployed 2,100 troops across the country.

The austerity measures, which came into force on January 1, increased taxes and the price of basics such as flour, fuel and phone calls, among other items.

The government accepted a four-year loan from the International Monetary Fund last year, worth over £2 billion, but its conditions include the usual IMF prescription of cuts, attacks on workers’ rights and tax rises on the poorest.

Tunisian women’s victory

This video says about itself:

2 August 2017

In Tunisia, the Parliament has passed a new law to protect women and girls from violence including rape. Rape survivors and civil society organisations have welcomed the new legislation as a progressive step for the country. Adnen Chaouachi has the details.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant:

Tunisian Muslim women can now marry non-Muslims. The 1973 ministerial circular prohibiting such mixed marriages has been revoked.

While Muslim men had always been free to marry non-Muslim women. So, this anti-women government decision was by the pre-Arab Spring regime, known from dictator Ben Ali. A regime, often praised as ‘moderate’ and ‘secular’ by NATO country media, because wearing headscarves was illegal. In fact, stopping women who themselves want to wear headscarves is just as dictatorial as stopping women who themselves want to wear miniskirts.

The spokesman for President Béji Caïd Essebsi announced that on Thursday.

By Rob Vreeken September 14, 2017, 19:00

A month ago, on the occasion of the Women’s Festival on August 13, Essebsi had asked the government to annul the circular. That has happened now. …

Following the 2011 Arab Spring, which led to a democratic transition only in Tunisia, new steps were taken to anchor women’s rights.

A ‘historical project’

In July, Tunisian adopted a law that extensively prohibits all forms of violence against women. Not only physical violence is more harshly punished, but all acts of “moral, sexual, psychological and economic aggression” against women are now punishable. Human Rights Watch (HRW) human rights organization spoke of a “milestone” for women’s rights. Minister of Women’s Affairs Neziha Labidi calls it a ‘historical project’.

Tunisian women‘s groups had fought for a long time for such a law.

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.”