In Al-Mansouri Beach moon beams have lost their bright glow as the “projector beams” at one end of the sandy stretch pierces the darkness and glares at the marine visitors who come ashore in summer for laying their eggs. This natural phenomenon has been taking place from as long as one can look back in the past.
The lights that shine in the night at Al-Mansouri Beach comes from a “sprawling private resort” which has recently opened the “forgotten” shoreline to people, whereby making artificial lights in that region a common sight. Even though, not much has developed in this region from 1982 to 2000 due to war conflict, it had preserved a natural phenomenon which the present period of peace is “threatening to destroy”.
Mona Khalil is a local of Al-Mansouri and an environmental activist, said that war gunboats have “protected the turtles” during the Civil War. Khalil is now seventy years of age and has moved back to her home which is situated on “an agricultural plain parallel to the beach”. Upon her return, she has made it her goal to “preserve the area”. Her first battle was with “dynamite fishing” which posed a threat to the marine ecosystem and then she had to face the fishermen who used “tiny nets” wherein the turtles used to get caught.
Talking about her struggle, she said that resistance was been strong right from the beginning, as she recounted: “After a month or two, a few young men … came by at 1:30 a.m. and started to shoot in the air. Two bullets went into the house”.
“They tried to break my car. They lit my garden on fire; the wind went the wrong way and burned my neighbor’s garden. They’ve tried everything to make me go away”.
Even though, crabs and foxes roaming around the wilderness of the dunes amid the tall grasses in Al-Mansouri Beach testifies its wildlife activities, the “two species of turtles” returning annually to nest is a spectacle that beats the rest. These turtles have been nesting in the secluded spots along the Lebanese coast but today they have only Al-Mansouri as “their last sanctuary”.
However, even their last resort seems to be threatened by the new resort activities, as Khalil added: “Everything that was illegal became legal. They got OKs from all [the relevant ministries]. They’re supported by an important figure”.
The story of the tension over Al-Mansouri came into the lime light in 2017’s summer as a news team faced assault from the security guards of the resort. H.Sh., as identified by the media reports was the attacker who even gave death threat to a crew member who were filming on the beach; later, H.Sh. also threatened Khalil. Although, the attacker was arrested, “he has since been released”, informed Khalil.
In 2008, thanks to the “diverse natural features”, this sandy stretch of Al-Mansouri Beach that covers an area of “1.4 kilometers” was “officially recognized” as a hima which means “community protected zone”.
Among the turtles nesting from the month May to October, there are the “critically endangered green turtles” as well as the “leatherback turtle”. Even though, the municipality recognises these natural treasures of the beach, it has given approval for the resort project in an area which “on paper is classified as a residential complex”.
In the words of Al-Mansouri Mayor, Riad Zabad: “Then they got another permit from the Directorate General of Urban Planning, and I couldn’t refuse it. I signed, even though I had refused before because there were violations of the building code. I didn’t sign the first time in the interest of the people of Al-Mansouri. I wanted to protect them and the town as was my duty, but we live in Lebanon. I can’t say this project is an attack on the coast, because they got the permit and worked based on that. Now, how they got that permit – that I don’t know”.
However, a source from the resort’s high level who requested anonymity informed that even though the resort place is still classified as residential, the same can easily be “transferred to touristic”.
When one looks at the resort project from the conservation viewpoint, one finds that the problem lies in “sewage, light and noise pollution” contributed by it. Moreover, the resort also brings in a shift in how Al-Mansouri is perceived as an area from being an agricultural zone to a tourists’ attraction.
The bright lights cause particular problem for the turtles as they seek dark spot and quiet places for digging their nests for the newly hatched turtles follow the moonlight shimmering above the sea and its reflection in the water to find their way into the sea. However, with the floodlights lighting up the dark beach, results in many mother turtles to abort “their nesting run” while hatchlings are misled to the wrong direction and eventually meet their sad end too soon.
Khalil’s observations, which are meticulously recorded and published on “the Orange House’s Facebook pages”, show that the nesting activities are reducing on the southern side of the beach near the resort area.
On the other hand, a source from the resort informed that the projectors that line the resort are turned inward to minimise the light pollution, while the facility also featured “triple-stage sewage-treatment tanks” for turning sewage water of the resort into irrigation fit water. Given the fact that Mansouri does not have any “sewage network”, the “environmental impact assessment” of the resort counted in this proposal.
Even though, one team from the “Environment Ministry” is said to have assessed the environmental compliance angle of the resort, the survey results remained unavailable to the media.
Left on her own without any support, Khalil met up with the representatives of the resort in an attempt to contain the environmental damage as much as possible. She said: “Eighteen years and nobody gets it, and nobody wants to help me. I tried really hard, but it’s here now and I’ve got to try to limit the danger”.
Khalil added further: “When I got back here, I called the ministry and took an appointment to see the minister. I took all my data and gave him everything I gathered over the past 10 years. People thought I was crazy for handing that over. I told him it was my gift to Lebanon.”