Geo answer

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The World

Green sea turtles figure in today’s Geo Quiz. The Mediterranean Sea separates Europe from Africa….and touches on Asia. It stretches from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Bosporus Strait in Turkey and the Suez Canal in Egypt.

Strait of GibraltarStrait of Gibraltar

The Mediterranean’s temperate climate makes it an important marine habitat for Green Turtles. They like to nest on the sandy beaches of southeastern Turkey, Cyprus, and Lebanon. We’ll hear more about some conservationists working to protect these endangered turtles.

Green turtleGreen turtle

But first — here’s the geography quiz: Tell us how many countries have coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. This coastline is peppered with famous beaches: from the French Riviera to Italy’s Terracina Beach to Croatia’s Golden Horn beach.

But how many countries border on the Mediterranean?

Add ’em up and don’t take too long…

All right — as requested in today’s Geo Quiz we added up the list of countries with Mediterranean coastline.

Let’s start with Europe: Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, the island state of Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey. Then add Asia: Turkey, Syria, the island state of Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and to that add Africa: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Green turtleGreen turtle

The answer is 21 countries with Mediterranean real estate. Now let’s shift to the eastern edge of the Mediterranean along the coasts of Lebanon and Israel.

Two women there run a bed-and-breakfast in the heart of Hezbollah controlled South Lebanon. They use their profits to fund their conservation work — protecting the Mediterranean’s endangered sea turtles. Ben Gilbert reports from Mansoureeyah (Mansuriyah), South Lebanon.

On a beach in south Lebanon, in the midst of a sometimes war zone, the shore comes alive with sea turtles. Turtles come here every summer to lay their eggs, as they have for thousands of years. For the past few decades, Mona Khalil’s family has owned a beach front farm here. But she moved to the Netherlands during Lebanon’s civil war. Khalil returned for a brief visit in 1999… and ventured out to the beach late one night with a friend.

“And that was the first time I encountered a turtle in my life . And saw green turtle, big huge beautiful turtle, and that was the beginning of the story of the turtles and me.”

When Khalil learned that the giant turtles were on the verge of disappearing from south Lebanon, she decided to return to protect them. She and her partner, Habiba Fayed, moved into the family’s abandoned farmhouse. That was in 2000, just after Israel pulled out of Lebanon. Khalil says at first, the locals didn’t appreciate the couple’s efforts. In fact, one night, some thugs put a bullet hole in their back door. Habiba says it wasn’t because they’re a female couple living in the heart of the Islamist Hezbollah territory. She says it’s because Mona called the police to report dynamite fishing near the shore….something that threatens the turtles.

“So these people found out it was Mona who was informing the police about them. So in the middle of the night they came shooting up in the air to scare us and by accident it went inside the house. And they thought we will pack and leave, but they didn’t know us very well. We’re still here.”

Over time, relations with their neighbors improved, and the two devoted themselves to their conservation work. To fund it, they opened up their home as a bed-and-breakfast. They called it the Orange House.

(GATE OPENING) A gate divides the farm’s fruit groves from the beach. Khalil’s land stretches a mile along the Mediterranean. As many as 75 turtles emerge from the Sea every June to lay their eggs in deep sandy nests. Four months later, hundreds of baby turtles hatch, pop out of the sand, and scurry to the water. Only one in 100 will survive to adulthood. Those that do will return — maybe 30 years in the future — to lay eggs of their own. Renee Coodsi is a marine biologist and frequent guest here. She says the beach is “ecologically significant.”

“There are very few sandy beaches that are undisturbed and not either built on, commercialized, built up to be army bases, trash dumps, or whatever… so this is one of the last natural sites where they can nest”

Khalil and Fayed protect the nests from other dangers, include foxes and wild dogs on the beach. Then there are fishing nets, oil slicks and plastic bags in the water that can kill turtles. And there’s the occasional eruption of war. Khalil says she and Habiba were here when fighting broke out in the summer of 2006 between Hezbollah and Israel.

“They bombed my neighbor’s house, and behind us, Hezbollah decided to put their rockets behind us, near the neighbor’s house, so we were sandwiched in between, for three nights continuously they were hitting each other, and that’s when I said no way, we’re going to be next, so if we stay, we are going to die.”

The women decided to get out. Two days later, their house was hit by Israeli rockets. Paradoxically, the conflict seemed to help the turtles. It kept people away from the beach during nesting season. The couple says that summer was the best nesting season since they began their work. Peace has since returned to south Lebanon, and UN peacekeeping convoys rumble by the highway near their house. They’re still in the middle of Hezbollah dominated territory, but they say the militant group generally leaves them alone. The local Hezbollah dominated municipality has even declared part of Mona’s beach a protected nature preserve. Mona and Habiba say before the war, they’d begun to make some progress on raising awareness about protecting the turtles’ habitat. But Habiba says the war put them back 10 years.

“Because people became destitute, no work, no food, and last thing on their mind is talk about environment. so that was a set back for us. So we have to start from beginning.”

And Mona has other concerns. The wife of a powerful politician recently bought the land next door to the farm. Mona suspects there’s a plan to build a resort near or even ON the Orange House property. She doesn’t own ALL her family’s land – it’s deeded to her brothers and sisters. If the area were opened up for development, and other members of the family sold their land, that just might end the beach’s role as one of the last turtle habitats in the country.

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