Two islands, one voice

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Tourists releasing a loggerhead sea turtle © Louis Marie Preau

A single, united team of many local groups is best for conserving an important natural area

Rare marine plant formations, nesting migratory birds, two uninhabited islands with beautiful sandy beaches. This might seem like a safe place for a rare species of turtle to nest, but Kuriat Islands in Tunisia are swamped every summer by thousands of tourists. Even local artisanal fishermen who frequent the islands can be unaware of their importance for the loggerhead sea turtle – the only place in Tunisia where this Endangered species nests, and the most important in the southern Mediterranean. Sea turtle populations are also devastated from bycatch in fishing nets, when they are then sold for meat.

Often in the Mediterranean, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, important sites for nature are the responsibility of many different governmental departments or organisations. This can often result in inefficiencies. Instead of one person or a small group of people being held accountable for the fate of, for example, a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) or protected area, there can be shifts in blame and conservation is neglected. This has been the case for the Kuriat Islands, Tunisia.

A local group of nature enthusiasts and local divers in Tunisia, which evolved out of Arab Spring into a fully fledged NGO called Notre Grand Bleu (“Our Big Blue”), took the problem into their own hands and found a solution.

They formed a committee of local stakeholders, who share their concerns at one table and get things done, acting and requesting action from government as “one big voice”. Local civil society is therefore a powerful force for the supervision and management of the protection of the area. This is also good for awareness amongst stakeholders such as fishermen and tourist operators, because local people get engaged with “their” site and are concerned for its conservation.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle © CC-BY-2.0



Where: Kuriat Islands, two islands 18 km off the coast of Monastir Bay, Tunisia

Key species: Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta

Project partners: Notre Grand Bleu, APAL, PIM, RAC/SPA



Our island: the facts

Despite being proposed to be part of a future Marine and Coastal Protected Area, Kuriat Islands have no legal protection.

Whose responsibility is it to protect the area and its turtles?

›  The site is the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture; part of it is owned by the Ministry of Equipment and the Ministry of Defence, and no conservation action happens.

›  Civil society (Notre Grand Bleu, NGB) therefore took on the responsibility to protect the turtles and the area.

›  NGB formed the first ever co-managed committee for nature conservation in Tunisia. This allows local coordination of the site’s management without heavy bureaucratic steps.

›  The committee is formed of 18 local stakeholders: private sector including tourism operations and fishing, university and research, civil society organisations, the military, government and a veterinary care centre.

›  A participatory approach: the committee meets regularly and has signed an official agreement to control the management of the area.

›  A capacity-building programme has been put in place to support the development of the small local organisations, including training in administration and field work.


Taking matters into local hands

›  An invasive species eradication and litter clean-up campaign, where 50% of people involved with the work were from the tourism and fishing sectors.

›  The principle users of the site have been involved with a system of mooring to prevent damage to the ecosystem.

›  The committee bought ecological nets for the fishermen that could not afford them. As a result of turtle conservation awareness, fishermen are now aware of the importance of the Endangered turtles: the number of turtles rescued by fishermen (rather than being sold for meat on the black market) increased from 3 to 12 per month in 2016.

›  Through the committee, fishermen now know about the Turtle Care Centre, and bring injured turtles for care and release.

›  The committee arranged for official restricted access areas for turtle nesting.

›  The military had 200 goats on the islands, which damaged the turtle nests and ecosystem. The committee formally requested to the Ministry of Defence to have them removed to the mainland. One big voice spoke and the Ministry agreed.


Problems & Solutions




"Engaging locals in conservation activities gives them a sense of belonging and creates commitment to good environmental practice. Co-management leads to co-protection, and will hopefully lead to a coastal protected area.”

Jamel Jrijer, Notre Grand Bleu



Jamel Jrijer |



From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, turtle conservation overcoming similar challenges



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The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International (CI), the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. Additional support in the Mediterranean Basin is provided by the MAVA Foundation. More information on CEPF can be found at

A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.



CEPF is more than just a funding provider

A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (expert officers on the ground) guides funding to the most important areas and to even the smallest of organisations, helps build civil society in the region, and shares learned lessons and best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International, including its Middle East office and the BirdLife Partners DOPPS/BirdLife Slovenia and LPO/BirdLife France.