Protected Areas in Tunisia

The marine protected area (MPA) is clearly defined as “a geographical area that is recognized, consecrated, and managed by any effective means, legal or otherwise, to ensure long-term nature conservation and ecosystem services and conservation along with cultural values ​​associated with it” (Dudley, 2008).

Today, there are 1231 MPAs and MPASC in the Mediterranean covering 179798 km2, which places 7.14% of the Mediterranean under the official designation. The Mediterranean sea has 186 national marine protected areas, covering 1.6% of the sea (MEDPAN, 2016).

Importance of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean:
These areas are important “sites” for the conservation of the components of biological diversity in the Mediterranean because they contain specific ecosystems of the sea or habitats related to endangered species. They are of particular interest in the fields of science, aesthetics, culture, or education.

In Tunisia, the national agency for the protection of the coasts (ANPC) is appointed by the Ministry of the environment and territorial development of Tunisia to create protected marine areas.

Legal and Institutional Framework
The designation and management of the Mediterranean MPA is governed by a number of international, regional, and national institutions.

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – International level
  • Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO – Paris, 1972) international level.
  • Biosphere reserves (under the aegis of UNESCO) at international level
  • Barcelona Convention – national and regional level

The Protocol on specially protected areas and biological diversity in the Mediterranean is composed of:

  • The creation, protection and management of Specially Protected Areas 
  • the establishment of the list of the importance of the specially protected areas of the Mediterranean
  • Conservation of the representative types of marine and coastal ecosystems of the Mediterranean, protection of habitats at risk of disappearance or those necessary for survival, conservation, and sustainable development.
  • Reproduction and restoration of endangered or endemic species.

The initial program covers a network of five marine and coastal protected areas mainly in island environments: 

  1. The Galite archipelago
  2. The north-eastern Kerkennah Islands
  3. Kuriat Islands
  4. The islands of Zembra and Zembretta
  5. The northern coast of Cape Negro at Cape Serrat.

The program covers the creation of five marine protected areas. These include Zembra, Galite, Kuriat, Kerkenah, and the northern coast of Cape Negro in Cape Serrat, and they are about to create a management and development plan.

The Galite
4 July 1983: declared a marine reserve
28 September 1995: declared an important area for the conservation of birds
November 2001: listed as a specially protected area of Mediterranean interest

The Galite

1 March 1977: Enrolled in the list of biosphere reserves
1 April 1977: Listed as a national park
2001: listed as a specially protected marine area of Mediterranean interest


The Kuriat Islands: STUDY CASE
The Kuriat Islands have a nationally recognized status of protection, with a high degree of rarity and vulnerability in terms of biodiversity. The Islands meet the conditions to be eligible for inclusion in the list of specially protected marine areas of Mediterranean interest.

The objective of creating a network of marine protected areas

  • Ensure the protection of exceptional marine environments and endemic, vulnerable, rare or endangered species.
  • Raising public awareness by enhancing the image of WAPs on the fragility of natural resources and the need to protect and manage the natural environment.
  • Promoting the sustainable use of natural resources 
  • Promoting environmentally friendly artisanal fisheries
  • Promote specific tourism products that allow you to discover and improve the space.

The Problems:

  • High population density and tourism: During the summer, the island is very popular with tourists and summer fishermen. Unfortunately this is during the nesting periods of sea turtles so the nests can be disturbed
  • The fishing activities around the Kuriat islands are intense, so fishing nets disturb the nesting of female sea turtles and form barriers for newborns
  • The widespread increase in tourism, particularly during critical nesting periods for seabirds and waterbirds
  • The destruction of benthic flora and fauna by anchors, tourist boats, pleasure boats, fishermen

The Kuriat Islands are emerging banks, located off the bay of Khnis to the northeast of Cape Monastir about 18 km from this city. They include a small island, or Rabbit Island, called Qûrya Essaghira of about 70 ha and a larger island, Qûrya El Kabira that’s about 270 ha with a perimeter of 6.9 km. The distance between the two islands is about 2.5 km. These islands are home to a rich marine area with terrestrial flora and fauna.

Kuriat islands

Little Kuriat:
It has an almost triangular shape without significant reliefs and is uninhabited. The only sandy beach is located to the northeast and is about 1000 meters long. The rest of the coast is rocky or bordered by brackish lagoons that are formed only in the presence of rain. The inner part of the island is made up of flat and low areas, covered with mainly halophilous vegetation (which love salty environments) and locally woody. The small island houses historical remains of human activities. In particular, the maraboutiques on the large island so there is also an ancient port refuge. Remains also testify to more contemporary uses on the small island. The island is very popular in summer for fishermen and tourists with one-day visits.

Little Kuriat

The Big Kuriat
The island called “The Big Kuriat” has a substantially ovoid shape, with no relief. Its maximum height is 4.2 meters near the lighthouse. It includes three large seasonal brackish lagoons; east, south-west and west. A lighthouse, built in 1888, and its annexes are located in the north of the island.

Big Kuriat

Natural characteristics:
The flora and fauna of the Kuriat Islands are particularly rich. The seabed of the islands have characteristics that make this site a breeding area and feeding grounds for many marine species.

Posidonia oceanica:
It is a plant, part of the Angiosperms, that lives in depths not exceeding 40 meters. It is considered the lungs of the marine ecosystems and represents a nursery for many animal species. In fact, almost 400 plant species and 1000 animal species find refuge in the rhizomes and/or on the leaves of Posidonia oceanica. Part of the production of prairie leaves is accumulated on beaches, particularly after storms, creating so-called banquettes. Posidonia is able to stabilize the seabed thanks to the rhizomes that form a barrier against waves and currents. For this reason, the Posidonia protects the coast from erosion (Mustapha.K&Hattour).

Posdonia oceanica

Pinna nobilis:
It is one of the largest bivalve molluscs in the world, sometimes longer than 1 m. Endemic in the Mediterranean, often described in the infralittoral between 0.5 and 50 meters, it lives within the sediment and is about one-third of its length at the meadow of Posidonia. Pinna nobilis is listed as a threatened species in the Mediterranean (Aguir, 2012). Since 2017, this species has been subject to a major mass mortality event that is decimating its population, including in Tunisia.

Pinna nobilis

Caulerpa racemosa: INVASIVE SPECIES
This algae reaches a height of up to 15 cm and differs from other caulerpales because of its unusual appearance, reminiscent of bunches of grapes. It is a pleasure for many fish. It also emits substances that are toxic to other plants, thus guaranteeing them territory over their competition. This species is experiencing a very significant expansion of its distribution and is widespread throughout the Kuriat Island (Aguir,2012).

Caulerpa Racemosa

Paracentrotus lividus :
The Paracentrotus lividus is a species of edible sea urchin that is very common in the Mediterranean. It has long thorns, about 3 cm, and they are smooth and thick. It shows a great variety of colours going from the olive green to brown, passing through different shades of violet.

Paracentrotus lividus

Caretta caretta
Also called the Common Turtle, it is a large turtle measuring up to 1.50 m, and is an important element for marine biodiversity, as well as a considered factor in marine environmental balance. The decline in the number of turtles causes the proliferation of their prey, jellyfish, which often feed on fish larvae. The decrease of turtles therefore leads to the increase of jellyfish that decimate the larval stages of fish, and also cause discomfort for recreational activities and marine tourism. The common turtle is considered endangered and is therefore protected in the Mediterranean. An action plan for its protection has been developed within the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP). This plan summarizes the main threats to this species and the measures to be taken to ensure its protection. The future of this species depends mainly on the protection of the remaining spawning grounds in the eastern Mediterranean. The Kuriat Islands are one of the main nesting sites of the Caretta Caretta turtle south of the Mediterranean. The nesting of the Caretta caretta turtle on the Grande Kuriat was first recorded in 1988, while on the small Kuriat in 1993 (Aguir, 2012).

Caretta Caretta

Avifauna: The avifauna in the Kuriat is of international importance because it represents both a passage phase and a nesting place for different species. The species observed on the two islands are the same as those that frequent the coast and are mainly migratory birds and many species of breeders such as Ilardi, terns, waders, Occhiocotto (Sardinian warbler),  common greenfinch, Il Gabbiano beffardo, etc.

Permitted activities in the Kuriat Islands:
The main activities carried out in the region are fishing and tourism.

Raising awareness

  • Increase awareness of the importance of protecting the beach from sea turtle eggs.
  • Sea turtle education along with Posidonia oceanica.

Permitted tourist activities:

  • boat activities
  • swimming
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling on the underwater path
  • Dolphin observation
  • Fishing tourism

Regional institution responsible for raising awareness of the ecological importance of sea turtles in the Kuriat Islands:

In a framework of participation with regional and national associations and organizations, an agreement was signed by the Agency for Coastal Protection and Development, the National Institute of Marine Science and Technology, the Centre of Regional Activities for Specially Protected Areas and the Association “Our Great Blue” in order to monitor the nesting of the sea turtle Caretta caretta on the Kuriat Islands.

The general state of the Kuriat Islands does not show serious threats if they respect the following measures:

  • Balanced tourist presence
  • Sustainable fishing
  • Ecotourism adapted to the island
  • The tourist promotion of the natural heritage of the Kuriat Islands is a necessity to avoid the massive fishing activity in the waterways of the Islands.
  • The enhancement of the nesting population of common turtle of the Kuriat Islands could bring funds to support the plans for monitoring and restocking of this species.