Kneiss Islands: human pressure - Value, uses, issues and possible development

The site was declared a natural reserve in 1993 due to the rich benthic fauna present, and its importance as a migratory route and nesting site for birds. 300,000 individual birds are estimated to migrate through the complex. A few hundred people used to live (till 1993)  in tents on Kneiss, herding a small number of sheep and  the island was important as an outpost to collect Carpet shells Venerupis sp. (mainly during the cooler winter period) and for fishing activities. People living transitorily on the island use wood from the island as fuel and herbaceous halophytas to build shelters, thus impoverishing the scarce vegetation. Cenchrus ciliaris and Artemisia herba-alba are severely threatened. Ornithologists who have surveyed the site have recommended the control of the shell fishery that operates on a seasonal basis ( October to April ) in this important nesting area, as this results in direct competition for food with the adults birds; eggs are also taken by the fishermen. The impact of human activity on the avifauna in this area as a result of this fishery, has yet to be quantified. Another important issue, as yet unstudied, is the relationship between heavy metal accumulation in the benthos and water flow within the site. Nearby (Gafsa region) downstream phosphate mining may also be a source of pollution. Tourism is suggested as an alternative economic activity to fishing, or possibly as a positive role model for sustainable resource utilisation. A national park could be one such means, attracting tourists to the area, thereby stimulating social and economic development. There is a desire to create a national park encompassing the complex and some of the surrounding area, and MECO has provided assistance to this goal.


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