By Antoine Amrieh
Daily Star correspondent
Monday, July 26, 2010

TRIPOLI: Among the many projects that have recently been launched to attract tourists to Lebanon, particularly during the summer season, a number have focused on ecotourism.

And while Lebanon has a number of nature attractions, locals to the northern Tripoli islands have complained that the reserve seems to be suffering from governmental negligence.

Now, the head of the North Lebanon Environment Protection Committee Amer Haddad has accused the Environment Ministry of neglect, saying the islands should be better invested in order to attract tourists and boost the city’s economy.

The reserve, located offshore from the city of Tripoli, consists of a string of small islands, some of which were declared a nature reserve by Lebanon and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1992. The islands contain unique fauna and flora and are a refuge for many migrating birds, some of which are on the verge of extinction.

The island’s sand beaches are also egg-laying sites for sea-turtles, say scientific observers.

Nonetheless, tourists are only allowed to visit the reserve during two months of the year and are asked to obey certain regulations to preserve the local ecosystem. Visitors cannot harm, remove, or cause damage to any living or nonliving constituent of the reserve and cannot fish, hunt or hold camps. All visits must also be guided.

“There’s a study to build an artificial island while we have natural islands that only need a little care to become a landmark in the Arab region,” Haddad said. “The islands are a living proof of our natural heritage and we have to protect them for the common benefit and for the benefit of future generations.”

The reserve is said to contain the only islands suitable for ecotourism on the coast stretching from Turkey to Tunisia, and Haddad said an investment project would the biggest in the region and beyond.

“The Lebanese coast has environmental, geological and biological characteristics that make it one of the most beautiful coasts in the Mediterranean,” Haddad added.

He called on concerned officials to extend tourist visits to five months instead of two and to care for Tripoli’s natural wealth, as Lebanon’s duty.

The archipelago’s main isle is Palm Island, commonly known as Rabbit Island. It is located five kilometers away from the shore and has a surface of 2.4 square kilometers. The island is of historic significance because of the discovery of ruins dating back to the Roman era and to the crusaders. But the archipelago is currently not inhabited.

The Ramkeen and Sanani islands are respectively 600 and 500 meters away from Palm Island. Ramkeen, also known as Fanar – “lighthouse” in Arabic – holds an old solar powered lighthouse, in addition to trenches and canons from the French mandate.

Sanani is distinguished by a unique formation of pointy rocks and is the home of the Mediterranean seal, listed as the sixth endangered mammal.

Boat owners commuting between the Tripoli port and the islands agreed with Haddad and urged officials to “care for the islands like they care for other regions.”

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::