Lebanese Nature Reserve Protects Unique Beaches, Wetlands

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The Tyre Nature Protectorate on Lebanon's southern coast offers a vast array of environmental and archaeological treasures, reports Abdallah Zubyan.

Just 84 kilometers from Beirut, on the shore of the southern historical city of Tyre, lies the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve. These are the best-protected sand beaches in Lebanon, and were declared a wetland area of global importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Despite the reserve's proximity to the sea, it contains wells that are a source of fresh water. These wells date back to Phoenician times, when Tyre was one of the most important cities along the Phoenician coast.

The reserve comprise an area of approximately 380 hectares (three square miles) and is divided into three zones — one for tourism, one for agriculture and another for archaeological sites. This is to protect the area and promote sustainable usage by allowing the use of its resources in an environmentally-friendly way.

The reserve is located to the south of the city of Tyre, and contains the largest and most beautiful of the remaining sandy beaches in Lebanon. It is distinguished by its coastal marine ecosystem and considered an important nesting site for migratory birds and endangered sea turtles.

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The reserve contains freshwater estuaries and springs that flow into the sea, creating a layer of fresh seawater. Scientists and visitors alike know that it is one of the most scenic areas in Lebanon, and at the same time has a wide range of biodiversity.

It contains a number of tourist attractions, including archaeological sites, an ancient city, antique markets, sandy beaches, bird watching — which can be done throughout the year but is best during the spring and autumn — cycling, camping, wildlife photography and scuba diving.

In addition to the many species of plants and birds, there are swamps scattered in abundance throughout this fragile environment. The reserve also serves as a breeding ground for green and loggerhead sea turtles. Visitors can explore this reserve through walking on the coast, riding a bike, snorkeling or scuba diving.

The sandy beaches of Tyre's nature reserve, with its renowned environmental system, is home to a rich diversity of plants, animals and insects. Among the flowers and plants found here are sweet flag, an aquatic plant with brown flowers that grows in freshwater swamps, and pancratium maritimum, or sea daffodil, which produces beautiful large white flowers.

It also contains many reptiles, such as green and loggerhead sea turtles, both of which are globally threatened species. The wall lizard is also prevalent here. This is a species of lizard that is widespread in Lebanon and can be found from sea level up to elevations of 1,800 meters.

The protectorate is also home to mammals, including the Arabian spiny mouse, a nocturnal rodent; the common bat, the smallest and most prevalent species of bat in Lebanon; and the badger, a nocturnal animal characterized by its long black-and-white face.

Furthermore, the reserve is of great archaeological value, as it is part of the ancient city of Tyre, which in 1984 was deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Tyre is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, the meeting point of several civilizations: Phoenicians, Romans and Greeks. It contains many archaeological treasures, and its oldest monuments are in Ras al-Ain, Tel Rashidiyeh and Old Tyre, and date back to 5,000 BCE.

Although you can enjoy the reserve year round, certain seasons are better for various activities. The best time to go bird watching is during the spring and autumn, when many migratory birds pass through Lebanon. During late spring and summer you can watch sea turtles as they come to shore to lay their eggs. You can enjoy cycling and taking walks at night throughout the year, while snorkeling and scuba diving are common summertime activities.

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Found in: antiquities, lebanon, environmental issues, environment
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