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Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)

An integrated modeling approach for sustainable development for the Ichkeul Lake (eco-tourism and aquaculture): IMAS-Ichkeul

PI: Béchir Béjaoui (, National Institute of Marine Sciences and Technologies
U.S. Partner: Hamidreza Norouzi, The City University of New York, New York City College of Technology (funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
Project dates: December 2019 - November 2022

Project Overview:

8-175 Team Photo
The research team discusses the project (photo courtesy of Dr. Béjaoui).
In northern Tunisia, near the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, Ichkeul Lake and its wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in Tunisia. It is an important stopping point for migratory birds (Ramsar, 2012), and it is also an ecologically sensitive environment exhibiting enormous diversity due to its geographical location, hydrology, biodiversity, and soil characteristics (Chakroun et al., 2014). Several dams have been built on rivers flowing into the lake, and the resulting decrease of freshwater supply into the lake has allowed for a greater backflow of water from the sea, thus impacting the main fishing activity in the lake by decreasing the eel stock. During the dry season, the water level falls to 30 cm depth while the salinity increases significantly. Fish production has decreased from 110 tons in 2007 to 43 tons in 2011 (Derouiche et al., 2015; DGPA, 2017). In addition, the decrease of the water level has affected the food supply for migratory birds in the area (Hamdi et al., 2012). These problematic issues clearly call for careful investigation and the development of decision tools. Thus, this IMAS-Ichkeul project is focused on water management in the Ichkeul region. Dr. Béjaoui and his colleagues will investigate interrelationships among constraints on water and the supporting ecosystems under conditions of global climate and socioeconomic change in order to provide socially and environmentally sustainable growth. They will try to establish a new methodological framework for the quantitative and participatory exploration and assessment of integrated water resources management strategies. In addition, they will develop an advanced class of integrated models and support tools for decision makers, taking into account biophysical and socioeconomic drivers and governance integration for the management of Ichkeul.

Stakeholder engagement will be a key priority. Moreover, the project is embedded in an active and engaged network of Tunisian scientists at three public institutions with a long history of research and development and regular cooperation with private stakeholders, governmental agencies, local NGOs. The project focuses both on human benefits and on the potential side effects on the ecosystem. Stakeholders have an important role in implementing and monitoring actions to be undertaken. Their commitment and involvement in an integrated management plan for the site should help to guarantee the efficiency and the sustainability of the project. Throughout the project, a participatory approach will be used in order to implement feasible scenarios such as fresh water input, fishing control, infrastructures to be set up, etc. The various stakeholders are keen to obtain a dashboard of the integrated consequences of the site management that takes into account as much as possible the full complexity of the interaction among the different components affecting the site. The toolkit to be implemented will permit simulations of different scenarios for the site’s management involving all the stakeholders and all the dimensions. The results will be a set of ready-to-implement feasible policies for the stakeholders to accept or adopt.

Summary of Recent Activities:

During the third quarter of 2021, Dr. Béjaoui and his team continued to improve various aspects of their Bassiana ecosystem database and add new user-friendly features. They then invited a large group of researchers to beta-test the database. Another task involved in the project is the creation of a bioeconomic model of the Ichkeul region. The PI selected an outside contractor to assist with that work, which began in October 2021 and should be completed by January 2022. As for field work, following up on their successful first campaign in September 2020, the team conducted a second campaign in October 2021 to examine the impact of the Sejnene River on Lake Ichkeul. They plan a third campaign for the coming winter to assess the situation of the lake after the extended period of dry weather and high temperatures in the region.

Dr. Béjaoui and his colleagues have also been working hard on writing papers on their work. They submitted two manuscripts to journals in the third quarter and have two others nearing completion. Team members also delivered three technical presentations at events in Tunisia. In addition, an abstract has been accepted for presentation at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2021.

Besides the winter field campaign and the bioeconomic model design, plans for the coming months include continued development and population of the Bassiana database. The PI also plans to host his U.S. partner Dr. Hamidreza Norouzi and to visit the United States along with two colleagues during the coming year. A no-cost extension has been issued through November 2022 to provide the necessary time for these and other project activities.

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