Precious Tunisian Wetlands and Migratory Birds Face Peril Amidst Drought and Climate Change
Tunisia’s cherished lakes and coastal lagoons, once teeming with life, are now confronting an existential threat as they succumb to parching drought and escalating temperatures. This crisis not only endangers a fragile ecosystem but also disrupts the migratory patterns of vast flocks of birds that rely on these wetlands as a vital waypoint between their journeys across Africa and Europe.
Lagoon Turns into a Wasteland
Ariana Lagoon, located just outside the capital city of Tunis, serves as a stark emblem of this unfolding catastrophe. The once-thriving lagoon now stands as a cracked expanse of desiccated mud, its islands devoid of avian life due to months of drought and a relentless heatwave. In close proximity, the Sijoumi lagoon, historically more reliable in terms of water supply, has dwindled to half its usual volume, with flamingo flocks casting a faint pink hue over a fragment of wetland amidst the burgeoning Tunis suburbs that cascade uphill.
Climate Change: One of the Prominent Reasons
Environmental activist Radhia Haddad, a frequent visitor since 2012, laments the dire scenario: “This year you can feel there is an environmental catastrophe due to drought… It’s the first time I’ve seen Sijoumi lagoon dry out in this way.” Tunisia, strategically positioned along the primary migration route for numerous bird species, provides essential wetlands that serve as a sanctuary for wading birds, embarking on their journeys either north from the Sahara or south from the Arctic and northern Europe. The blistering temperatures in Tunis last month, peaking at 49 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit), symbolize the escalating trend of hotter summers intertwined with drier winters, a manifestation of climate change’s impact on North Africa.
Sudden Change in the Climate
Tunisia’s coastline is adorned with numerous substantial lagoons and inland lakes, hidden behind the inviting golden beaches that European tourists flock to during summer. Until a rare June rainstorm offered relief, Sijoumi lagoon remained almost empty, jeopardizing the habitats of waders and other birds that depend on its reeds, water, and mud for nesting. Environmental systems, especially wetlands, have borne the brunt of this year’s prolonged drought, affirms Haddad, as she gazes upon the cracked ground where birds typically lay their eggs. Nesting activity has been entirely absent this year, a departure from the norm.
Other Reasons Behind This Detoriation
Hicham Azafzaf, the scientific coordinator of Tunisia’s Bird Lovers Association, conveys the gravity of the situation. With two decades of monitoring these ecosystems, he underscores that this summer’s intensity is unprecedented. Yet, the decline in wetlands and its impact on bird populations has been a progressively worsening issue. Azafzaf notes that several species that once wintered in Tunisia no longer do so, highlighting the distressing reduction in the greater white-fronted geese population at Ichkeul National Park west of Tunis.
Climate change is not the singular peril facing Tunisia’s wetlands. Encroaching urbanization, dumping of waste, and debris near water bodies pose additional threats. However, the value of these wetlands extends beyond avian inhabitants. They offer vital temperature regulation during heatwaves and play a pivotal role in averting perilous floods by absorbing sudden rainfall from storms.
As Tunisia grapples with this multidimensional ecological crisis, action becomes imperative to conserve these delicate ecosystems, safeguard migratory birds, and secure the vital functions that wetlands provide to both nature and society.