Mohammed Zaatari| The Daily Star

TYRE, Lebanon: Tyre Beach Nature Reserve, along the coast of the southern city, is known for being the site where, every year without fail, sea turtles come to the shore to lay their eggs. Ahead of National Sea Turtle Day, the manager of the reserve, Hasan Hamza, explained that turtles typically come to lay their eggs toward the end of May by digging a hole in the sand about 60 centimeters deep in which around 80 eggs are laid. The turtles then protect the eggs by covering them with sand before heading back to the sea.

“Sea turtles become active during the night from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m.,” Hamza explained.

“The turtles present on our shores are of two kinds, the green sea turtles and ones with large heads,” Hamza said. “Both are threatened with extinction on a global scale.”

These turtles play a vital role in the region’s ecosystem, he added, but pollution has served to endanger their presence on Lebanese shores.

“The importance of these turtles is that they prevent jellyfish from proliferating on our shores by feeding on them, and we have to realize that these turtles suffocate when they swallow plastic bags because it confuses them, because they look a lot like jellyfish under water,” he said.

Fishing practices have also contributed to the turtles’ woes, Hamza explained. “There’s a lack of cultural awareness among some fishermen; when they catch the turtle, they directly kill it to get rid of it in order to protect their nets from tearing.”

Workers at the Tyre Beach Nature Reserve survey the shore in order to locate the turtles’ nests and mark them to alert people they exist.

“After around two months the baby turtles hatch and make their way to the sea, but they are subjected to attacks by sea gulls, some foxes and dogs,” Hamza said, adding that out of 1,000 baby sea turtles only five typically survive. “For our part, from the moment the turtles hatch we make sure they safely make their way to shore so more can live.”

In attempts to protect sea turtles, the reserve is working to raise awareness among the younger generation by teaching them a simple equation. “If the jellyfish proliferate then this means the turtles won’t be OK and vice versa,” he said. One turtle eats about 15 jellyfish a day.

Also Tuesday, the Lebanese University marked National Sea Turtles Day by holding a workshop under the patronage of Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk.

Machnouk explained that the government decided to mark May 5 as a national day for sea turtles, knowing their importance for Lebanon’s biodiversity.

He added that Lebanon’s shore, located on the Mediterranean, was rich in biodiversity. “We shouldn’t be negligent, it isn’t permissible to not be committed,” he said. “As individuals and as civil society we should protect sea turtles,” he added, noting that focus should also be given to river turtles.

The dean of LU’s Faculty of Science Hasan Zeineddine explained that the paralysis affecting government institutions had also affected Lebanon’s animal and plant diversity and contributed to the precarious state of sea turtles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2015, on page 4.