Ichkeul National Park, situated 25 km south-west of the town of Bizerte on the Mateur plain in north-eastern Tunisia is (with Doñana in Spain, the Camargue in France and the El Kala wetlands in Algeria) one of the four major wetlands of the Western Mediterranean. It provides habitat for passage and wintering waterbirds from the northern Palearctic and breeding habitat for many southern Palearctic species, some of them globally threatened or biome-restricted. The park consists of an isolated wooded massif (Djebel Ichkeul), a permanent fresh/brackish lake, Lake Ichkeul (8,500 ha) and areas of freshwater marshland (Garaet Ichkeul). The lake is fed by a number of rivers from the west and south, and is indirectly connected to the sea, via the marine lagoon of the Lac de Bizerte, by the Oued Tindja. The massif supports a mixed woodland of Olea europaea, Pistacia lentiscus and Euphorbia dendroides while the marshes are dominated by Phragmites communis, Tamarix africana, Typha angustifolia and Juncus species. Within the lake the waterplant Potamogeton pectinatus is of particular importance as a food-source for wintering waterfowl. During the last 10 years the ecological character has changed dramatically, with the building of dams on inflow rivers, the consequent decrease of river water and increased evaporation.
See Box and Table 2 for key species. Before the construction of the upstream dams, 200,000 or more waterbirds were regularly recorded in winter at Ichkeul—these included, as well as those listed in the Box, the species of global conservation concern Aythya nyroca (20–90 birds), as well as up to 5,000 Anas crecca and smaller numbers of A. acuta and other ducks. Ichkeul was the major wintering ground for the population of Anser anser (up to 25,000 birds) that breeds in Central Europe. It also supported major congregations on passage of trans-Saharan migrant waterbirds such as Anas querquedula, Limosa limosa, Philomachus pugnax and Tringa stagnatilis, and post-breeding (probably moulting) concentrations of Anas crecca and Limosa limosa. Breeding birds of the marshes included Ardea cinerea, A. purpurea, Egretta garzetta, Marmaronetta angustirostris (probably also Oxyura leucocephala), Porphyrio porphyrio, Rallus aquaticus, Himantopus himantopus and Glareola pratincola, together with many passerines such as Acrocephalus arundinaceus and A. scirpaceus. On passage, there are good numbers of raptors including Circus macrourus, and especially in summer and early autumn, Falco eleonorae and Circus pygargus. Thick cover along the banks of the inflow rivers provides habitat for a number of passerines including Tchagra senegalus. The massif still provides breeding sites for a number of raptors such as Neophron percnopterus, Hieraaetus fasciatus, Buteo rufinus, Falco peregrinus and F. tinnunculus, as well as a number of rock-loving passerines such as Phoenicurus moussieri, Oenanthe leucura, O. hispanica and Monticola solitarius.
Non-bird biodiversity: There used to be a population of the otter Lutra lutra (VU), but it is unlikely to have survived the construction of the dams. The plant Teucrium schoenenbergeri is only known from Ichkeul.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site was declared a National Park in 1980. It is also a Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Site. The ecology of the lake and marshes of Ichkeul has been much altered by the reduced inflow of fresh water as a consequence of the construction of dams on affluent rivers. The amount of freshwater inflow has decreased and has been replaced by an inflow of saltwater from the sea. The resulting increase in salinity has destroyed the freshwater vegetation and numbers of waterbirds have crashed. A large number of studies have been carried out under the auspices of the Tunisian government, and a restoration plan has been developed with a planned allocation of fresh water. It remains to be seen whether this plan will be successful, and whether the wetland may lose some of its international designations. The mountain is not affected by these activities and quarrying has been halted and grazing reduced.