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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 - June 2023

Project Overview:


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 first quarter of 2022, Dr. Béjaoui and his team deployed a radar-meter in the Tinja River lock to estimate the water exchange between the lake and the lagoon. They will use the data collected to calibrate their hydrodynamic model. In February 2022, they also carried out their third field sampling campaign on the project. The fourth campaign is planned for this summer to assess the situation of the lake after the extension of the dry season and the high temperatures in the area.

The team has also been busy in recent months with drafting and revising manuscripts. Two papers have recently been accepted and two more are under review. Citations will be added below as the papers appear. Another work in progress is the team’s geodatabase, BASSIANA, which includes chemical, hydrological, and physico-chemical data and a trophic resource on the regional under study. This database will be useful for collecting and sharing data with other institutions and researchers around the world. The data stored will help policy makers, researchers, and stakeholders to mitigate the impacts of dams and climate change on the water balance and salinity of Ichkeul Lake. The data will also be used for a socioeconomic study intended for the development of eco-tourism and fishing in the lake. As an example, the team is using the data and applying a coupled model to predict the effects of climate change and anthropogenic pressures on the fishery resources of Ichkeul Lake, in particular on the European eel species Anguilla anguilla, which constitutes 60% of the total production of the lake. These predictions will help the local authorities create a new management plan for eels, replacing the current plan, which dates from 2010. Once the database is implemented and shared with stakeholders and researchers through the project website and in a publication, it will be hosted on a private server within a few months.

This project remains active under a no-cost extension through June 2023, during which the PI and his colleagues will continue to collect data and work on their numerical model and socioeconomic aspects of their study. They will collect data from the current meter to calibrate the hydrodynamic model and to assess the water exchange between Ichkeul Lake and the Lagoon of Bizerte. Then they will calibrate their hydrodynamic model using the data already uploaded to their database. In the next step, they will compare the model results with the data. Once validated, a final simulation with real data collected will be carried out, and they will assess the effects of anthropogenic and climate change on the water balance. They will also attempt to implement their socioeconomic model in the region based on previous studies under the project. In the first half of 2023, exchange visits are planned by the U.S. partners to Tunisia and by the PI and co-PI to the United States.

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