The Lebanese coastline extends over 240 kilometers in length. The coastal area, which constitutes around eight percent of the total area of the country, comprises 33 percent of the total built-up area in the country. It is home to 55 percent of the total population.
Experts have observed approximately 17,000 marine species occurring in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of Mediterranean species of phytoplankton, algae, lichens, mushrooms, phanerogams, zooplankton, and benthos exist. In addition, 21 species of cephalopods, four species of turtles, and six marine mammals have been reported.
Lebanon’s coast suffers from winter storms, extraction of sand from beaches, establishment of landfills and ports, recreation and encroachment on public lands, all of which reduces the proportion of marine sediments and leads to sediment environmental scarcity. Small numbers of sandy beaches are left in good condition: Batroun, Jbeil, Al Muaameltein, and Tyre in the South.
Threats to the great potential offered by the coast already exist, such as uncontrolled urban sprawl, increased privatization of the shorefront, reduced public access to the beach, solid waste dumping, wastewater discharges, and sand extraction. If immediate and appropriate measures are not taken to mitigate the effects of natural processes and human activities, the marine environment along the coast and the quality of life of its inhabitants will deteriorate.
Lebanon’s marine and coastal ecosystems continue to suffer from an ever-increasing range of threats, including coastal urbanization, land and sea-based sources of pollution such as sewage and oil dumping, habitat degradation, an increasing demand for marine resources, invasive species, and larger-scale impacts such as global climate change. In addition to untreated sewage from cities and towns, coastal zones are also affected by large seafront dumpsites in Tripoli (still active but contained), Bourj Hammoud (which will be reopened soon), Ouzai (established by the cabinet on March 2016), Sidon (closed and rehabilitated) and Tyre (active).
Coastal waters in Lebanon receive untreated sewage from at least 53 major sewage outfalls, spread along the coastline, of which 16 lie within the Beirut area. Coastal waters receive an estimated 162 million cubic meters per year of untreated sewage (equivalent to 276,000 cubic meters per day), which is equivalent to 65 percent of the total sewage load in Lebanon. About 70 percent of Lebanon’s population, plus hundreds of thousands of refugees each year, contribute to this sewage stream. Although Lebanon has made progress in building sewage treatment plants along the coast, none of them are operating at design capacity. The cost of environmental degradation of random discharge of untreated sewage is estimated at one percent of GDP.
Be careful where you swim!
Lebanon’s beaches suffer from dangerous levels of contamination by fecal coliform bacteria in many public areas and resorts in the country, according to yearly testing conducted by the National Centre for Marine Sciences. Unsafe levels of fecal coliform bacteria can lead to rashes, diarrhea and vomiting and can spread disease depending on the extent of exposure.
It has reported that the water is unsafe for swimming, well above international safety limits, in 20 areas. The center has been testing the water since 1980. Thirty representative sites of the coastal region are selected. Physical, chemical, bacteriological and biological analyses are carried out monthly (two times per month during the summer). An annual sites’ classification is established according to different types of degradation. The only beaches in Lebanon that are around 90 percent safe are in Enfeh in Northern Lebanon and Naqoura in Southern Lebanon.
Lebanon’s public beaches are shrinking, partly because of infringements on the public maritime domain. Coastal erosion, mainly in north Lebanon, is also affecting beach quality and access. Bathing water is affected by several pollution streams (sewage outfalls, thermal plants, industries, etc.) and therefore there is a pressing need to monitor its quality.
Additional pollution of coastal waters stems from coastline thermal power plants (Beddawi, Zouk, Jiyyah, and Zahrani) and the presence of heavy industries along the coast. The Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) load from industrial wastewater is estimated at 5,000 tons per year. Waters near industrial sites show high levels of the heavy metals arsenic, lead, zinc, and chromium. The highest levels have been found near the Dora industrial complex, mainly as a result of the presence of a tannery industry there. Very little has been achieved with regard to treating industrial wastewater before discharge into the municipal streams, rivers, and the sea. The growing urbanization has also resulted in the production of increased levels of untreated wastewater and solid waste, particularly in the coastal region.
The Pollution of Lebanese Beaches
Akkar: Good condition. Tripoli: Very polluted. Anfeh: Very good condition. Chekka: Very polluted. Batroun: Good condition.
Jbeil and Amchit: Very good condition. Jounieh: Very polluted (via the sewers). Nahr el Kalb: Good condition.
Ramlet el Baida: Very polluted. Jiyeh: Fair. Damour: Good condition. Sidon: Good condition. Naqoura and Tyre: Excellent.
Study carried out by the National Centre for Marine Sciences
Map source: Libanews, François Bacha