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CIMAR and UA examine marine protected areas off the coast of Lebanon for the MedMPAnet Project

Organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature propose that, at least 20% of the coastline is conserved in marine protected areas.

Sponge 'candlestick' (Axinella dissimilis) in Nakoura to- 17m depth


Alicante, 17 February 2014

The Marine Research Centre in Santa Pola (CIMAR) and the University of Alicante’s Department of Marine Sciences and Applied Biology have developed a map of marine protected areas off the coast of Lebanon. 2012 and 2013 campaigns are part of the European Project MedMPAnet, which ended in December 2013 and will be presented at the end of next February to the Lebanese Ministry of Environment. Within each of these areas, the researchers established three zones with different levels of protection (integral, buffer and multipurpose protection zones), with different uses according to the degree of conservation. The model applied here has served to establish other Mediterranean marine reserves. The result is the demarcation of areas with a different degree of protection.

The experience of this team in Mediterranean marine protected areas has enabled them to work now in Lebanon, where they have applied the same model used in Tabarca Island (Alicante) for the conservation and protection of the marine environment, with a rational use of resources.

Coordinator and Scientific Director of CIMAR, Alfonso Ramos Esplá, who is also a Professor in Marine Sciences and Applied Biology at the University of Alicante, has led this European project in Lebanon. Algeria, Montenegro, Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon are the participating countries in this project, whereas, Spain, Italy and France are also involved in research and their territory planning due to their experience in marine protected areas. The project, which has had the participation of faculty members from the Department of Marine Sciences and Applied Biology of the University of Alicante, Carlos Valle and Aitor Forcada, began in 2012 in northern and central Lebanon (Enfeh-Ras Chekaa and Raoucheh in Beirut), and in the past year,  the second campaign was made in the south of the country, between Sidon and the border with Israel. The project involves the study of the marine environment, its flora and fauna, fisheries and the possible establishment of marine protected areas.

Lebanon is a small quite industrialized country, with a long coastline of about 250 kilometres, similar to Alicante. However, it still has little altered marine areas. The coast of the country is a natural laboratory for what may happen in the Mediterranean in the future, Ramos stays, who describes the area as "interesting" and very fragile. The team has proven the invasion of exotic species from the Red Sea and the effect of global warming up to 40 metres deep.

The result of the working group after visiting five sites (Nakoura, Tyre, Sidon, Raoucheh, Ras Chekaa and Enfeh) has been the designation of two of them (Nakoura and Ras Chekaa) as marine protected areas, within which three zones with different levels of protection have been established. These three zones are: an integral or total protection reserve zone, the second is the buffer zone of the above, in which certain low-impact uses are permitted, such as traditional fishing and ecotourism, and a third wider zone for multipurpose use where much of the activities carried out on the coast are allowed, but with a coastal planning and avoiding - if possible - the human impact on the coast.

Following the same model, the researchers have defined Enfeh and Tyre as areas with buffer and multipurpose-use zones, and the last one (Sidon) with only an integral coastal plan. Also, they proposed as Natural Monument the rock formations and caves of Raoucheh.

This work derives from the "Lebanon’s Marine Protected Areas Strategy" (2010), a programme of the Lebanese Government to join the European Project MedMPAnet, from which some Mediterranean coastal countries will be benefited: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Montenegro, Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) participates in the project  through the Action Plan for the Mediterranean, with Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas

(RAC/SPA), along with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Partner agencies in Lebanon are the Ministry of Environment, the National Centre for Marine Research (CNRS), which has provided them with the research vessel "Cana" and the Lebanese University.


Need for protection

Keeping fishing and marine biodiversity, along with sustainable use of resources, environmental balance, and possible marine environmental education and the enjoyment of a non-altered marine environment are the reasons given for the creation of these marine protected areas.

Defending selective fishing in the area allows the continuity of future generations. This is the reason that justifies the need to conserve the natural and cultural heritage. The demarcation of these marine protected areas achieves its continuity. It is, therefore, vital to protect these areas not yet impacted by mankind. By preserving these areas, we achieve the protection of the reproduction of marine organisms (fish, invertebrates, plants). In turn, these individuals as larvae, juveniles and adults, are exported outside the reserves and repopulate the areas exploited by fisheries. <<If you keep an area protecting reproducers and young descendants, you guarantee the export of biomass, which can be logically caught>> Ramos guarantees. <<These marine reserves act as reservoirs of broodstock and juveniles, while marine habitats are protected>> the scientist.

Together with species of commercial interest, other vulnerable ones coexist, which people usually catch, such as seahorses, triton shells or noble pen shells, among others. The delimitation of marine protected areas allowed them to be exported outside the area, and their survival is essential to be able to maintain the environmental balance.

Finally, environmental education and enjoyment of the marine environment is another aspect of conservation. All this obliges man to protect and conserve nature. <<It is intended that at least 20% of the coastline is preserved by marine protected areas. This has been proposed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other international fora >> Ramos says. 


Photos courtesy by Alfonso Ramos. They correspond to areas of Lebanon sampled in 2012 and 2013, within the MedMPAnet Project.


Hydrozoan colony of the Red Sea (Macrorhynchia philippina) in Nakoura at -5m depth Sponge 'candlestick' (Axinella polypoides) in Nakoura at -23m depth

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