Marine protection status: the archipelago is in a no-hunting zone
The Kerkennah archipelago consists of two main islands – Gharbi et Chergui – and twelwe low-altitude islets. This archipelago has a rich history that began at the Roman time; Herodotus mentioned it in his writings. The inhabitants mainly live from fishing, agriculture, and tourism. These economic activities however endanger the island’s unique biodiversity: halophilic vegetation, wetlands and seagrass habitats host an incredible fauna. The archipelago is also an important wintering and reproduction site for migratory birds. Another threat comes from the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the immediate vicinity of the site.
The archipelago is made up of very low-altitude islands and islets, with a coastal line that is very vulnerable to erosion, in particular that caused by sea level rise. The episodes of submersion are likely to multiply in frequency and duration. In the archipelago, there are many large sebkhas.The Kerkannah islands have a unique landscape structure: a mix between the typical insular traits and the oasis ecosystems. The island has amongst others wetlands and its coastal linear is under the influence of high amplitude tides.
The Kerkennahs are home to an exceptional historical heritage: the remains scattered throughout the archipelago attest of a human presence since the fifth century BC. Punics, Romans then Aghlabids, Fatimids and Zirids settled there, building bridges, roads, forts and cisterns. Then, the kings of Sicily, the Catalans and Spanish have, in turn, conquered and abandoned the archipelago. The site was then dominated by the Turks, and knew an era of great prosperity. 7 of the 12 villages that inhabit it today were founded at that time. The history of this archipelago is also told by the Kerkennian feluccas and other specific boats specific to these islands. The archipelago cultural life is punctuated by octopus, mermaid and date festivals. Community life is active on the island: the civil society plays an increasingly active role.
The Kerkennian economy is based on four sectors: fishing, tourism, hydrocarbons and agriculture. Fishing is mainly traditional and produces an average of 1,550 tons per year, with a fleet of 500 motorised boats and 1,400 non-motorised boats. Tourism takes place mainly in the summer and focuses on cultural and relaxing activities. Kerkennah are part of two gas fields (Circina and Chergui), where hydrocarbons are exploited. Regarding agricultural activities, there are mainly orchards, olive trees and palm groves (intended for livestock). Traditional craftsmanship is also very present, including weaving Kerkennian “fouta and tarf” and basketry, especially for the construction of felucca boats.
Coastal soils are subject to frequent marine intrusion (especially in winter), which impacts the vegetation, generally halophilic, except in non-flood zones. Examples of species that can be found are Cenchrus ciliaris, white wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba) and asparagus (Asparagus albus) or Albardín (Lygeum spartum) and spur flax (Thymaelea hirsuta). The Kerkennah islands plateau is mostly covered with marine phanerogams Posidonia oceanica and Cymodocea nodosa that can be found in different forms.
The Kerkennah Archipelago is an important site for wintering bird species such as Eurasian spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), grey herons (Ardea cinerea), and gulls such as the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahelis). In the spring, the archipelago is a breeding site for many seabirds, including terns.
Today, the Kerkennahs are facing the challenge of preserving their cultural and environmental heritage. If not valued, the island craftsmanship, especially the construction of Kerkennian feluccas, tends to disappear.
Biodiversity is moreover put under pressure by the loss of Posidonia meadows. Overfishing, the use of prohibited gear, and trawling are undermining the marine environment by tearing away seagrass and by fishing non-targeted species (such as turtles). Pollution and invasive species represent additional pressures for the environment. These practices, accompanied by dragging at sea and gas prospecting, reinforce the erosion of the coast and threaten the archipelago. Many wetlands areas are shrinking. Plant species are locally declining and animal species, particularly birds, are probably less present (non-existent monitoring programs).
Some areas are distorted by waste deposits, construction debris, or wastewater and rainwater spillage. The issue of fishing waste (nets, traps, cans, waste oils …) remains a major challenge in the inhabited and coastal areas.