Like Ichkeul, Kelbia in central Tunisia, some 20 km north-east of Kairouan and 30 km west of Sousse, is one of the great flood-plain wetlands of Tunisia. It receives the waters of three major rivers that rise in the mountains of the Dorsale, the Nebhana, the Merguellil and the Zeroud. Since rainfall over these mountains of central Tunisia varies considerably from one year to another, the amount of water received varies enormously; even in natural conditions there were years when the lake dried out completely. But there were also times when the water remained largely fresh for several years, and when the lake overflowed beyond the natural sill in the north-east corner and reached the sea via Oued Sed (site TN018) and Sebkhet Halk el Menzel (TN017). Though the site is called ‘sebkha’ in Arabic, it never has the salt-crust typical of other such salt-lakes, as the water seems to drain away rapidly and efficiently, flushing salts out of the system. Fringing vegetation includes Tamarix africana, Phragmites communis, Typha angustifolia and, in the brackish waters, Zannichellia palustris. Since the building of major dams on the three inflow rivers in the last 20 years, the ecology of the site has changed considerably, with long periods when it remains dry, though there have been occasional releases from the dams, and some inflow from smaller tributaries.
See Box for key species. Historically, Kelbia was one of the most important sites for waterbirds in Tunisia, rivalling Ichkeul in numbers of birds in wet winters, providing breeding habitat for a great variety of birds in wet springs, and also for many steppe and desert-edge species which are not normally found further north. A vast and impressive array of Palearctic waterbirds wintered, including Podiceps nigricollis (400), Ardea cinerea, Egretta garzetta, Plegadis falcinellus, Anser anser, Tadorna ferruginea, Oxyura leucocephala (5–40) and Anas crecca (500–1,000). In wet winters it is the main roosting site for the population of Grus grus which winters on the plains of Kairouan. Breeding species included Tadorna tadorna, Ardeola ralloides, Marmaronetta angustirostris, Sterna nilotica and Chlidonias hybridus. Kelbia was also the centre of the relict resident Tunisian population of Anthropoides virgo, now apparently extinct.
Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The dams which have been built on the three major inflow rivers in the last 20 years have totally changed the water regime of the site. In years of high rainfall, water is still released from the dams, and conditions resembling the original natural conditions may be recreated for a short time. In some winters heavy rain in the catchment of smaller tributaries may create a shallow water-body, but such natural conditions are unlikely to persist for long. Some two-thirds of the lake surface (8,000 ha) have been designated as a Natural Reserve, but proposals to reclaim the area for agriculture or to use it for storage of waste-water from neighbouring cities such as Sousse still recur. As at other protected areas in Tunisia, there is a need for active conservation and management. Minor local threats, which could easily be overcome by management and wardening include poaching, human disturbance and reed-cutting.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sebkhet Kelbia. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 24/09/2020.