Wetland of International Importance recognised by the Ramsar Convention (from 2007)
Wetland City Accreditation Award
Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)
Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA)
Ghar El Melh: Sink or Swim
Ghar El Melh, in Tunisia, is a unique collection of coastal lagoons separated from the sea by thin sand banks.
The survival of this sensitive ecosystem is dependent on maintaining a good circulation of water within the various sub-ecosystems.
The region contains Ramli – an ingenious agricultural method that uses the tide to irrigate crops grown in the sand with fresh rainwater.
The lagoon and its beaches are also important for tourism and fishing.
By 2100 the surrounding sea level is expected to rise by an incredible 1000 millimeters – highlighting just how sink-or-swim the situation in Ghar El Melh already is.
Why will the consequences be so dramatic?
Rising sea levels, along with rapid urban development, are deteriorating how water circulates within the lagoon complex, and increasing its salinity. This, combined with a multitude of other factors, is putting enormous pressure on the five residential areas that depend on the lagoon. Creating a ‘domino effect’ of irreversible damages across economy, food security and health, forcing citizens to tackle multiple crises all at the same time.
1. Ghar El Melh is home to a very special and ancient agricultural tradition called Ramli (‘on sand’), recognized by the GIAHS Initiative (FAO) as one of 62 ‘Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems of the World’. It is practiced on the banks of the Sidi Ali El Mekki lagoon, and on lagoon islets known as Guettayas.
Today Ramli is threatened by rising sea levels provoking poor water circulation within the lagoon, increasingly saline waters and the unavailability of additional sand needed to adjust the height of the lagoon plots.
By 2100, it’s expected that a total of 113 ha of traditionally managed land and a further 300 ha of other agricultural areas will be submerged.
Expected damages: 4 million Euros per year
2. Fishing is an important source of income for residents of Ghar El Melh. It is practiced with small boats, and yields from the lagoon vary between 54 and 114 tonnes per year.
Rising sea levels combined with growing human populations, deteriorating lagoon-sea communication AND increasing numbers of invasive blue crabs are threatening Ghar El Melh’s fishing activities.
Expected damages: 550,000 Euros per year
Tourism and Well-Being
Nearly half of Tunisia’s lagoons are coastal, and sandy beaches are especially vulnerable to coastal erosion from rising sea levels.
To date, interventions to reduce these effects have been implemented in 37 km of beaches – out of a total coastal area of 881 km2.
Ghar El Melh’s sandy beaches, and increasing tourist facilities, attract a high number of summer visitors each year with a business of 4 million Euros.
By 2100 91% of these beaches will be submerged, reducing the current 12.5 km stretch to just 1.2 km.
Ghar El Melh is home to more than 230 species of fish, birds and plants (including a rare species of Thyme unique to Tunisia, and a variety of Rosemary known for its medicinal properties).
Rising sea levels will transform the lagoons into marine environments, turning a diverse and vibrant landscape into a sea of…well, sea.
The damages will be in biodiversity, natural beauty and identity.
Estimated economical values of damages are based on the current prices and incomes from key sectors (agriculture, fishing, tourism, etc.) being directly affected by rising sea levels.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
We Can Act Now for Ghar El Melh
1. Further develop and implement the Integrated Management System developed as defined in the publication “Conservation and Sustainable Development of Coastal Wetlands with High Ecological Value” by WWF North Africa.
2. Urgently improve water circulation within the lagoon complex of Ghar El Melh and specifically the sebkha of Sidi Ali Mekki. A study to better understand the problem and explore financing possibilities for a sustainable solution is currently underway.
3. Reviewe wastewater processes in order to upgrade and better pollution reducing facilities in lagoon and coastal waters.
4. Strengthen the adaptive capacity to climate change in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.
For further information or enquiries please contact:
Khouloud Ben Charfi
Project Officer – Freshwater, WWF North Africa
Climate central https://coastal.climatecentral.org ; Sea-level-projection source: Leading Consensus (IPCC 2021); selected scenario: medium. Pessimistic scenario: 2,5 m
APAL, Agencie de protection et d’amenagement du littoral
IUCN and WWF-NA, 2020. Characterisation and conservation assessment of terrestrial biodiversity at Ghar El Melh [Report]. Project GEMWET, Malaga: 58 pages + annexes.
Moussa, Mahmoud & Baccar, Lotfi & Khemis, R.. (2005). Ghar El Melh lagoon: Ecological diagnoses and future hydraulic restoration. Revue des Sciences de l’Eau. 18. 13-26.