Hezbollah on hand to help baby sea turtles

Being a sea turtle is difficult; sharks, fishermen and a dwindling habitat have all taken their toll. Using the beaches of war-ravaged Lebanon as a nesting site has not made life any easier.

Hezbollah on hand to help baby sea turtles

Being a sea turtle is difficult; sharks, fishermen and a dwindling habitat have all taken their toll. Using the beaches of war-ravaged Lebanon as a nesting site has not made life any easier. So it must have felt like the final straw when the foxes turned up.

Driven from the coastal hills by the 34-day bombardment last summer, the red foxes took refuge on the last wild beach in the country. There they discovered a tasty treat in the form of the eggs of the rare green and loggerhead turtles, midway through their five-month nesting season.



This year, the turtles have returned, but so too have the foxes. "The foxes are destroying nests," said Mona Khalil, a conservationist who has become the reptiles' champion.

Lebanon's woes had already led to many ups and downs for the turtles. The Israeli gun boats that patrolled offshore during the 25-year occupation of southern Lebanon kept locals off the beach at night when the turtles come ashore to nest each summer between May and October.



But while Israeli warships were inadvertently protecting the sea turtles, United Nations peacekeepers were creating havoc. Soldiers from the Fijian contingent were paying fisherman $10 a piece for the turtles, a delicacy in their native archipelago, until Miss Khalil convinced a sympathetic UN general to put a stop to the practice. The turtles are also being caught in the crossfire of competing Shi'ite political movements. The mile-long strip of beach on which they nest is split between two municipalities, one is controlled by Hezbollah, the other dominated by the rival Amal party.



Hezbollah has proven itself a friend of the sea turtle, declaring its half of the beach a protected area. Amal has steadfastly refused.

"It's not that I'm a fan of Hezbollah, but they have been good to the turtles," said Miss Khalil.

In the Mediterranean, the turtles face daunting obstacles. Fodder for predators and threatened by humans, only one in every 1,000 will survive and return to the same seashore to reproduce 25 years later.



Miss Khalil and her female friend, Habiba Syed, 49, walk the beach every daybreak, scouring the sand for new nests or those which are about to hatch. They try to protect eggs with chicken wire, but the foxes attack the nests from the side. And now, with 20,000 Lebanese army troops stationed in south Lebanon, the turtles face a new set of challenges. The soldiers have set up camps along the beach and ripped up foliage to make a football pitch.

"Saving turtles means nothing to them," said Miss Syed, after supervising a nest of baby turtles into the sea. "They think we're two crazy ladies."

Sunday Telegraph

Last Mod: 19 Ağustos 2007, 10:51
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