July 28, 2017 / 2:09 PM / 22 days ago

Conservationists strive to protect Lebanon's sea turtles

Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea at a seashore in El-Mansouri village, near the southern city of Tyre, Lebanon July 24, 2017. Picture taken July 24, 2017.Jamal Saidi

EL MANSOURI, Lebanon (Reuters) - On Lebanon's beaches, endangered sea turtles have a human ally to help them in the face of myriad threats.

Mona Khalil, 77, founded The Orange House Project in 2000 to protect sea turtles on the south Lebanon beach in el Mansouri from predators, pollution and encroaching humans.

"I am teaching and encouraging the new generation how to take care of the environment and as I am getting old I want the new generation to continue what I am doing now", she said.

With sea turtles returning to the same beach where they were born to lay their eggs, Khalil relocates nests threatened by agriculture and installs metal grids to protect them from predators.

She also raises the eggs by hand at the group's facility and released the first of this year's baby turtles earlier this month. Every time there are new hatchings and turtles released she invites groups of families and school children to watch.

Mona Khalil along with other people releases baby sea turtles in El-Mansouri village, near the southern city of Tyre, Lebanon July 24, 2017. Picture taken July 24, 2017.Jamal Saidi

"I didn’t know we had sea turtles who came to this beach here to lay their eggs here," teacher Faten Chalhoub, 34, who was there with her nieces told Reuters.

"When I saw them for the first time it brought me great happiness, I loved them. I fell in love", she added.

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There are some in the town who feel differently about Khalil's work. Her activism was responsible for banning dynamite fishing in the area, which resulted in her house being shot at and attempts to burn her farm down.

There are two species of sea turtle that breed in Lebanon, the green turtle, which is an endangered species and the loggerhead turtle, which is classed as a vulnerable species.

The exact number of turtles in the eastern Mediterranean is uncertain. An estimate cited by the World Wildlife Fund suggested that there were 60,000 nesting female loggerhead turtles worldwide.

Khalil is determined to carry on with her work, despite any hostility, "I fought for 17 years, so why not, 18, 19, 20 more. As long as God gives me life, I am a fighter", she said.

Writing by Maria Semerdjian in Beirut and Mark Hanrahan in London Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.

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