The Tunisian government and a local NGO have jointly run a turtle conservation program since 2017 that allows beach-goers to have an environmental education while they are enjoying their holidays.

Conservation efforts of sea turtles throughout the Mediterranean, particularly the Kuriat islands, aims to be part of the list of protected nature reserves as they serve as permanent loggerhead turtle breeding site in the region.

The Guardian reports that after years of marine conservation efforts it is finally beginning to pay off in Tunisia, with conservationists expecting a further increase in the number of sea turtles visiting the country's beaches to build their nests.

An Increase in Turtle Nests Since 1997

By now, the dangers or factors that could threaten marine life are more prominent, and the increase in turtle nests are considered unlikely, although fragile, victory. Conservationists monitoring sea-turtle nests on Kuriat islands, a vital nesting ground, have spotted a rise of nests from 11 to more than 40 annually since they began monitoring them in 1997.

Marine project manager at the WWF's office in Tunis, Jamel Jrijer, said that sea turtles are "keystone species which play a critical role in making the marine environment what it is."

The green, leatherback and loggerhead turtles are commonly encountered in Tunisian waters, but among these three, only the loggerheads nests in the area. It lays its eggs at some sites in Kuriat island near Monastir, which is a popular destination for beach-goers and the most important site.

Due to heavy fishing that often traps sea turtles in lines and nets, plus an estimated 13,000 tons of phosphate waste pumped from Gabe's industrial heartland, and combined with plastics and other debris floating in the ocean have pushed the Mediterranean's loggerhead turtle population to the brink.

NGOs and the Tunisian government have pushed back, protecting the nesting grounds of sea turtles in Kuriat since 1997. They have also established the Sea Turtle Rescue Center at the National Institute of Marine Sciences and Technologies in Monastir in 2004

"When I first started work here in 1997 there were only 11 nests. Now we are seeing between 40 and 45 nests every year," says Marine biologist Imed Jribi, who is delighted to discuss his work on Kuriat.

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Threats Surrounding the Sea Turtles

Tourism on the island still presents a major problem in conserving the sea turtles. With so many people visiting Kuriat, a smaller group would allow the conservationists to manage and protect the sea turtles' nesting sites, said Jribi.

If not, other problems could arise such as the hatchlings at Chebba, whose instinct to navigate to the sea by following the moon is subverted by the lights coming from the cafes and roadside lights, which drew them towards lethal streets.

A female turtle can build three to four nests of which she will lay 80 to 120 eggs if it is left undisturbed. But with their survival remains slim because only a fraction of those born on the sands of Tunisia will ever reach sexual maturity.

Often, turtles got stuck in fishing nets and lines, and they are sold for meat or traditional medicine. Chief biologist Olfa Chaieb said, "most of the turtles we see have been injured through contact with fishing gear."

Furthermore, turtles have also mistaken floating discarded plastic in the ocean for jellyfish, which is a staple of their diet. Chaieb said that 50% of the turtles they see have plastic inside their system, excluding the microplastics that are undetected.

But given these obstacles, and a rising sea temperature that affects the gender of the turtles, the increase in their number is all the more remarkable. As Tunisia gradually reopens, both humans and turtles are returning to beaches, and both are looking forward to a more hopeful future.

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