Tunisia wetlands dry up, endangering migratory birds

Tunisia wetlands dry up, endangering migratory birds
Flamingos are seen on the almost dried-out Sijoumi lagoon in Tunis, Tunisia, August 10, 2023. credit: Reuters/Jihed Abidellaoui

Wetlands in Tunisia are drying up, putting a delicate ecosystem at risk and forcing huge flocks of migrating birds to seek other places to nest. The birds’ journey between Africa and Europe has always relied on these wetlands as essential rest stops.

The Ariana lagoon, located near the capital city of Tunis, paints a depressing picture. Once bursting with life, it’s now mostly dry, cracked mud. The islands within the lagoon, once home to nesting birds, are now surrounded by sand after long periods of drought and intense heatwaves.

Not too far from Ariana, the Sijoumi lagoon, known for its historically reliable water sources, faces a similar fate. Although flamingos can still be seen in the remaining waters, the backdrop of expanding Tunis suburbs signals another threat. 

“This year, you can feel that there is an environmental catastrophe due to drought. It’s the first time, I’ve seen Sijoumi lagoon dry out this way,” environmental activist Radhia Haddad told news agency Reuters. “All this wetland area used to be filled with water during the past years, but starting the previous year, it has become dry due to the lack of rainfall.”

“This year, we conducted a survey that revealed no nesting activity. Normally, this area is referred to as small islands and serves as a nesting site for birds. However, this year, there is no water level resulting in no nesting activity,” she added.

Hicham Azafzaf, from Tunisia’s Bird Lovers Association, echoed Haddad’s sentiments, expressing his astonishment at the severity of the dryness: “I have been monitoring wetlands in Tunisia for around 20 years, and I have never seen them this dry. For the first time, I saw several dry wetlands.” 

“In recent years, we observed that there are several species that no longer come to Tunisia in the winter, including the goose (White-fronted goose). Some 30,000 geese used to winter in North Africa, at Ichkeul National Park. However, this January, only 400-600 came.”

But this summer’s dire situation isn’t isolated. It follows a prolonged pattern that has notably impacted bird populations. The white-fronted geese, which used to flock in tens of thousands to North Africa during the winters, have dwindled in numbers. This January, only 400-600 geese were observed.

Alongside climate change, the wetlands are also threatened by urban expansion. Buildings are moving closer to the wetlands, and waste is often discarded nearby. 

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