For years, sailors on Kerkennah Island have not hoped for an abundant catch. The sea no longer favors them except with blue crabs. Plastic tubing has replaced the tubing made of palm fronds. The plastic that invaded the sea in the absence of state control has today become a threat to marine biodiversity. “Arjoun Al-Baqaa” is a film by journalist Mabrouka Khedir, which dives into the details of this environmental crime committed against nature.
The Kerkennah Archipelago is located off the coast of Tunisia, 15 miles from the Sfax coast. The archipelago covers 18,000 hectares and comprises two main islands. It also has seven uninhabited small islands, four of which border the northern coast. The Kerkennah islands are very low-lying and the highest points of these shreds of land, which barely emerge from the sea, hardly exceed 13m in altitude.
Kerkennah is a wetland that suffers from marine and terrestrial pollution, and climate change is a major challenge in this region. With its 160 kilometers of coastline, its inhabitants live mainly from fishing. But if the small island is distinguished by the quality of its fishing resources, its heritage is increasingly threatened. The island is suffering from rising sea levels, which are gradually submerging parts of the island due to global warming. The temperature has negatively affected the reproduction of about 60% of all fish species.
The plastic Drina has replaced the ecological Drina
Most of the residents use a traditional fishing method called Drina fishing. The Drina is the local name for cages made of palm trees that traps the fish that get in. Today, plastic is the most common raw material for making "Drina" in Kerkennah, which has contributed to the pollution and desertification of the marine environment. Indeed, studies indicate that plastic only decomposes in the open sea after more than 400 years, and that one plastic tube contributes to the desertification of at least one square meter. The traditional craft of making Drina, known locally on the island of Kerkennah as "Drina de Arjoun", is threatened with extinction as young people are reluctant to use it and learn how to make it.
The revival of traditional Drina
The techniques of traditional fishing have enabled the development of local know-how in the processing and handling of natural materials, such as palms and esparto grass. With the passage of time and the use of plastic by fishermen instead of these natural products, this know-how is about to disappear. Only a few people still master the techniques of palm manipulation to produce remarkable handicrafts, thus safeguarding this cultural heritage.
Ecotourism is a reliable alternative to current coastal tourism. It offers a new source of income, which can provide additional income to the islanders and to traditional fishing practices. It is almost the only way to conserve the marine biodiversity threatened by the oil industry. In Kerkennah, there are initiatives to revive the Drina made from the remains of palm trees instead of those made from plastic. It allows a group of artisanal fishermen a better quality of life through ecotourism, responsible management of fisheries and the valorisation of the products of the soil.
All these issues are addressed in "Arjourn Al-Baqaa" by the journalist Mabrouka Khedir, an environmental film that raises awareness of the dangerous impact of the use of plastic Drina in maritime fishing.
This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in Alqatiba on 2 November 2022 in Arabic. It has been translated to English and lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: A fisherman in Kerkennah Island, Tunisa. Still from "Arjoun Al-Baqaa" / Credit: Khedir Mabrouka.