Sea turtle in Lebanon: a Lesson of Survival

Prestige issue 119, April 2003

Meeting with an endangered kind


© Mohamed el Sarji

Imagine a history dating back 100 million years, the story of an animal that has succeeded where the almighty dinosaurs failed: survive, despite climate changes. Today, a greater threat to the turtle, a danger that was not intended by nature: the destructive hand of man. In Lebanon, it was barely mentioned until the day when a woman met them by chance on a beach in the South. Her life was transformed, she was committed to their cause. Meeting with Mona el Khalil and her protected fragiles.


© Mohamed el Sarji

A meeting on a beach in southern Lebanon that changed the life of Mona el Khalil: Chelonia mydas turtle, green turtle in the Mediterranean, which has chosen this place still untouched by man to come lay its eggs. At the right,  in the bottom, hatching. Incubation lasts about 60 days. The higher the temperature, the higher the embryos develop rapidly, a fresh sand tends to favor the birth of males.

The first pictures of Mona el Khalil travel around the world creating a happy surprise in the scientific community: green turtles nest found in Lebanon!


© Mohamed el Sarji

Mona el Khalil carefully identifies eggs and births while the first curious leave the nest, 40 cm deep, dug in the sand.

From  Tyre,  she has long dreamed of coming back from the Netherlands, but the war in Lebanon prevented this …
Her profession: art restoration. Today, the fate wanted that it’ll be the work of nature that she tries to restore. Since that day she went walking on a beach south of Tyre with a friend …. “We came as tourists, equipped with a small camera, it was ten o’clock in the morning, a beautiful day, the beach was deserted. Not a sound … then we heard something sliding on the sand. Fich Fich Worried … then intrigued … I moved slowly, I saw it in front of me … a huge turtle. I felt that I was faced with something important. I knew I had to come back at any cost “So in simple words that Mona el Khalil presents her first interview with the first tenants of the beach. Turtles. I had come to see her in the company of  Mohamed el Sarji, president of the Union of Lebanese professional divers, very active in the field of environment and conservation of endangered marine species. Mona tells me: “This is the first time I saw a turtle, I knew nothing except documentaries. It was more than love at first sight, it was something strong, that inspired respect, reverence to the work of nature, in front of this animal which exists before man, who preceded man millions of years and trying to survive in this that man is bent consciously or not to destroy it. »


© Mohamed el Sarji

Two friends, who work for the preservation of the turtle in the Mediterranean: Mona el Khalil, representing Medasset and Mohamed el Sarji, professional diver who was responsible for the photos of the article and which does every effort to protect the environment, especially in southern Lebanon, and awareness of the population.

 © Mohamed el Sarji

The descent to the sea begins, just the trace of a parasol,the mark of a step for tripping, blocking the baby turtle. Just a light to misplace its way to the sea, to note that the turtle does not see well out of the water. Out of 100 babies, only one single turtle matures.

 © Mohamed el Sarji

Unlike baby alligators, which are released by their mother, the baby turtles are left to fend for themselves. To break the shell, a special tooth, which falls just after. Emerging from the nest requires much effort. The young emerge from the nest usually at dusk or during the storm, when temperatures are cooler. Turtles are move towards more enlightened direction. If they are not quick enough, they may be victims of the sun, and being trapped by a crab, a bird. Once in the water, they have to swim out to sea, and hang(about five years)on algaes and there they remain no less threatened by sharks and large fish…

 © Mohamed el Sarji

Hatchlings in Indian file, yet the turtle is not a very social animal, and it makes its way alone.

Mona el Khalil continued: “I moved and I started … alone, I started documenting myself. Joined by a young boy in the neighborhood, I was doing my tour of inspection. I did not know anything about the techniques. I just wanted to make sure they survived. The first year, I discovered in horror that stray dogs were eating the eggs. I corresponded with Medasset Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles, sent pictures … witnesses that created the surprise and generated enthusiasm: it was the Chelonia mydas, extremely rare in the Mediterranean. I became a representative of the organization that sent an international expert to conduct a study on all the Lebanese coast, in collaboration with the Lebanese Ministry of Environment. We realized the site favored by turtles was this beach because it was untouched by pollution, noise … ”



© Mohamed el Sarji

There is a protective barrier, the mash wire above the nest to repel dogs and jackals. The work of environmental protection requires patience and commitment.

 © Mohamed el Sarji

Tiny being taken by a giant wave. Such is life…

• It takes the turtle 20-30 years to become an adult. Longevity: 100 years.

•For the spawning females attend The same beach every year and as adults Turtles return to the beach of their birth to lay their eggs, hence the need to protect these sites.

•The oldest turtle fossil found is 150 million years old.

•The turtle: the lucky animal that was most revered by the mythologies: Greece, Japan, America…

Why protect them? “But just to save the ecosystem! In summer, our beaches are overrun with jellyfish that are increasing because the number of turtles that eat these is shrinking. ”

“Killing turtles is a source of pride for some fishermen. Pollution harms them, but more beach erosion due to man; The solution is to establish a marine reserve, which can be of benefit on the tourism and educational plans. There is already awareness on the part of young people who come to clean beaches. Contemplating turtles gives you an indescribable emotion. We “prepare” the ground for them, we inform people of the region,  we tell them that we will receive guests. We prepare defense strategies. And we “help” to the outbreak. We dig, we flatten the “road” and we wish them good luck. If we were to let nature take its course … Of the thousand hatchlings, only one would come to maturity … “Today, funds are needed to help these volunteers, while Mona el Khalil works and draws on her private resources to safeguard the turtle, the symbol of immortality and wisdom. This turtle you do not even suspect its existence would be a symbol of our talent of survivor … It chooses against all the shores of our country Lebanon.
Interview by Simon Nadim


© Mohamed el Sarji

The turtle feels good in its element:the sea. Males will never return to the mainland, they are much more lucky than females who will return to lay their eggs on the shore.

 © Mohamed el Sarji

Turtles are victims of pollution, uncontrolled fishing, exploitation of the coast, why should we worry? Because of biodiversity also depends the survival of man.

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