A trip into the future MPA of Taza in Algeria | WWF

A trip into the future MPA of Taza in Algeria

Posted on
16 May 2012
The future Marine Protected Area of Taza National Park is about to be born. This is the culmination of a long process in collaboration with WWF, local communities and authorities, national and international experts, and the fruit of the boundless passion of the Park'’s team.

March 2012: a video producer and I have the mission to produce a video clip on the new objectives of the Park of Taza. We travel on-site and spend a full day to tour the marine part. 9600 hectares of marine area, 30 kms of coastline, the visit will be rich.

Departure from the port of Jijel-Boudris on a Park’s boat. 9am. The weather is clearing up, the sea is like a lake. A school of dolphins comes to meet us and play around the boat as if to celebrate the Park’'s team.

We're heading west towards El Afia'’s lighthouse where the future Taza MPA begins. Soon we move away from the urbanization of the city and penetrate into the area that will be under protection soon.

To the north, the shallows of the “Banc des Kabyles”, a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance since 2005 and the Salamandre reef, one of 2 no-take zones of the future AMP, in which all activities will be prohibited (except research).

This area is of paramount importance because it is a spawning ground for major commercial fish species. After intense consultations with the local fishermen, the involvement of many national and international experts and exchange visits in other Mediterranean MPAs, an agreement was reached to close this area. A long process of information, discussion and compromise allowed the park to reach a proposed zoning and regulations of fishing activity that has been approved by all.

Fishing is indeed in the region (the Jijel Wilaya), a very old, and widespread activity that is the source of many tensions. As highlights Dr. Mohend Kacher, a fisheries expert: "The land is wedged between sea and mountains, and it is hardly conceivable that a native of the region does not have a boat to meet his needs. But the economic difficulties of the population is now pushing many fishermen, declared or not, to sell their catch illegally. This undeclared commercial fishing therefore creates unfair competition for legally registered artisanal fishermen ". Some 200 fishing boats are registered for pleasure, and as many probably are unregistered, for 222 artisanal fishermen, 50 sardine boats and 15 trawlers.

These tensions have actually helped to rally fishermen on the Park’'s side during negotiations, since the park intends to manage this problem of illegal fishing. Fishing gear will also be regulated. Today monofilament nets for example are still common - they are invisible under water and their meshes are narrow, forming deadly traps when they are abandoned on the sea bottom. They will be completely banned throughout the MPA.

We continue our way towards the islets of El Aouana. The weather covers up but the scenery is of breathtaking beauty. The mountains are volcanic and covered with a dense vegetation composed mainly of cork oaks. The cliffs plunge in crystal clear waters and make this area well known for its untouched quality. With 617 taxa identified, the studies conducted in the framework of the MedPAN South Project showed the presence of a significant island and marine biodiversity and a high quality of marine waters in the area, with bio-indicator species of unpolluted waters. The conservation status and the extent of the Posidonia meadows are remarkable with formations on rocks that are only found in Algeria and Tunisia. Other remarkable marine habitats- such as coralligenous, worm snails “trottoirs”, Cystoseira forests - have been identified and the presence of many threatened and endangered species (giant patella, pen shell or loggerhead sea turtle for instance), and yellow-legged gulls nesting sites.

These treasures, rare in the Mediterranean, deserve effective protection.

Especially since tourism is expected to grow even more in the region. Already one of the first Algerian tourism destinations, the Jijelian coast, also known as the Saphire Coast, welcomes over 5 million tourists in summer. The new management plan of the Park plans to develop a more sustainable form of tourism, which will combine the discovery of nature with direct benefits for the local population.

We actually meet on the islet of the Great Aouana, a team of divers that came to assist the Park with the characterization of an underwater trail around the island. This project is the fruit of a collaboration between the League of Rescue, First Aid and Underwater Activities in the Wilaya of Jijel - who is very involved in the promotion of responsible diving practices in the region - the Park of Taza and the MedPAN organization. Three possible locations are being investigated. The underwater trail that will be implemented will be the first in North Africa.

We continue westward and penetrate into the second no-take zone of the future MPA. The coast is indented and karstic cliffs drop into the sea. We get into the buffer zone and arrive in the large bay of El Aftis with its long golden sandy beach, very crowded in summer. Swimming, boating, anchoring in established areas, snorkeling and scuba diving with permission will be allowed. Spearfishing will be prohibited however.

Farther west, we travel the last miles of the reserve, this time in the peripheral zone that will benefit from lighter regulations that will allow professional and pleasure fishing as well as all recreational activities.

We leave the future MPA and arrive at the picturesque little fishing harbor of Ziama Mansouria where fishermen involved in negotiations with the Park welcome us. A small fishing boat with is catch happens to come back from sea as well, and we are witnessing a very special kind of sale in the region: the “"sale by ear”". Buyers warned by phone join the skipper at the dock. After a brief estimate of the catch of the day, they whisper their best offer to the ear of the skipper. These auctions are silent ... The atmosphere loaded with suspense .. The skipper alone decides who wins the cargo. The deal is done, money and fish change hands.

The day was not so good for this skipper and his crew. He barely covered his costs, and the catch he brings back is smaller and smaller. The preservation of marine resources and the organization of the fishing activity in the area is key to minimize conflicts and maximize revenue. Fortunately, and in its efforts to engage with fishermen, the Park  benefited from the invaluable support of the Directorate of Fisheries of the Prefecture of Jijel, and in particular Mr Hocine Bousbia, a widely respected personality by the entire community of fishermen in the region.

The new management plan for Taza National Park is finalized and has been approved by all project partners (fishermen, technical departments, divers, hunters ..) and by the official steering committee of the project. For the first time it includes the Park's marine area. Last step: it will be submitted to the National Commission of Protected Areas in June this year. It is the Algerian law of February 2011 on Protected Areas that enabled this procedure.

There is a long way ahead before the objectives of the management plan will bear their first fruits; the Park will specially watch that fishermen respect the limits and the zoning regulations. But the will to preserve the biodiversity while ensuring the sustainable development of the area is real and commitments are made.

The video will be available online shortly.
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