BirdLife: The Magazine June 2017 - Page 48

PEOPLE THE FACES OF NEW NORTH AFRICAN CONSERVATION GREEN SHOOTS OF SPRING From “protect by punishment” to “protect by involving people”: the peaceful revolution that is changing nature conservation in North Africa Shaun Hurrell O ur relationship with nature is dependent on more than the way the wind blows and the flowers bloom. During a period of societal tur- moil, for example, nature can become an unlikely political symbol. In Tunisia, Awatef Abiadh saw it happen during the Arab Spring: “The Protected Area system was established by the government without any consultation with local communi- ties”, she says. “Declared by law. Full-stop.” As such, during the Tunisian Revolution, people turned their resentment of an oppressive regime to collateral damage. “Locals ransacked Ichkeul, Bouhedma and Chaambi National Parks, taking threatened species like oryx and gazelle, and 48 In Morocco, GDF are involving local communities for conservation by supporting livelihoods. Photo Inanc Tekguc/GDF 0 DURING THE UPRISING, PROTECTED AREAS IN TUNISIA BECAME THE UNLIKELY SYMBOL OF THE REGIME AND WERE RANSACKED cutting many trees in anger against the govern- ment”, she recalls. For Abiadh, this showed there was a lack of harmony between local people and nature across the region, and today inspires her work for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), which has invested in bringing people together for conservation in the Mediterranean for the last five years. “I grew up in the countryside in Kairouan where I learned my first lessons about nature,” says Abi- adh. “We needed to use and exploit nature to earn our life, but we loved it and kept it close.” Abiadh started a career as a teacher, but in 2007 whilst working as a lecturer, she became BIRDLIFE • JUNE 2017 AWATEF ABIADH CEPF Programme Officer, North Africa AHMED GHEDIRA Notre Grand Bleu,Tunisia MOUNIR BENCHARIF AREA-ED, Algeria ABDELOUAHED KAIKAI AGIR, Morocco LIBYAN SOCIETY FOR BIRDS Created the first Libyan environmental club THORAYA OUHIBA & SAMIA AMOURA Oxygen Society, Libya involved with a series of wildlife surveys on Tuni- sian islands, because her supervisor was seasick and suggested she go instead. Volunteering and a passion for conservation followed, and today she works as the Programme Officer for North Africa for the CEPF Mediterranean Hotspot, granting projects and helping non-governmen- tal organisations (NGOs), large and new, with their social and environmental challenges. “Since we started in the hotspot, we have contributed to a 180-degree change in conservation, from ‘protect by punishment’, to ‘protect by involving more local people’”, she says. The project closest to her heart, and family home, is led by Notre Grand Bleu (NGB; “Our Big Blue”), a local group of nature enthusiasts and divers that emerged out of the Arab Spring into a fully-fledged NGO, and were granted by CEPF to protect the Kuriat Islands – and their Endan- gered turtles – from bad tourist management and fishing. Kuriat is a positive story of hope, where NGB succeeded in forming the first ever co-managed committee for nature conserva- tion in Tunisia. Jamel Jrijer, NGB, said: “Engag- ing locals in conservation activities gives them a sense of belonging and creates commitment to good environmental practice.” Together with JUNE 2017 • BIRDLIFE 0 Photos Louis-Marie Préau, Robin Moore, Awatef Abiadh/CEPF KURIAT IS A STORY OF HOPE. FOR THE FIRST TIME A PARTICIPATORY APPROACH WAS USED IN CREATING A NATURE RESERVE IN NORTH AFRICA 18 stakeholders including government, research, tourism, and fishing, NGB are close to creating a Marine Protected Area that everyone is behind. Whilst the Arab Spring helped mobilise North Afri- can civil society, some organisations of course already existed. AREA-ED, in neighbouring Alge- ria, was founded in 1998 and has worked to create the National Parks Babor and Tadabort, providing crucial high-altitude habitat for an endemic and Critically Endangered Algerian fir tree, resident fluffy monkeys, barbary macaque (Endangered), and bark-climbing Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti (Endangered) – all threatened by fire, illegal log- ging and overgrazing. A CEPF project in 2014 allowed AREA-ED to work in new ways. “Both of these projects are the first times a participatory approach has been used in creating protected areas in North Africa,” says Abiadh. One lesson that has emerged from all 106 CEPF grants in the Mediterranean is that nature con- servation is a powerful way of bringing diverse people together, and even just time spent in nature can be transformational for some. When you see the smiles on people’s faces at a turtle hatchling release on the Kuriat Islands, it’s easy to understand; but perhaps nowhere is it more important than in trying to rebuild a country in Civil War: Libya. IF INNOCENCE IS THE FIRST CASUALTY OF WAR, PERHAPS OPPORTUNITY IS THE SECOND Six years ago you would not have expected a Libyan environmental organisation to be in existence, let alone exploring ecotourism as a means of nature conservation. With free press and other forms of civil activity banned during the 42-year long rule of Colonel Gaddafi, nature surveys, campaigns, and many things conser- vationists take for granted in their daily work in other countries, were impossible. But since the Arab Spring and despite the Civil War in 2011, NGOs are forming in Libya, with some even receiving international funding. This, thanks in part to support from CEPF – the first donor to directly fund a local environmental NGO in Libya since the Arab Spring began. The pioneers of this movement, of which a large proportion are female, are fresh with energy and enthusiasm, and are seeing Libya’s nature with new eyes (and binoculars). They include CEPF grantees the Libyan Society for Birds, who organised a birdwatching trip for local Scout children on World Wetlands Day and are further- ing the country’s ornithological knowledge; and the Libyan Wildlife Trust (LWT), who are intro- ducing ecotourism to Alqarabolli. These groups are lacking in experience, how- ever: six years is not long enough to work out a country’s conservation priorities, especially a country whose environmental laws were set in the 1990s by a ruthless dictator. Now, with a 49