At the beginning of the 80s, Agha Khan, coming from Sardinia, where he owned an island with an upscale tourist resort, had toured the island of Zembra with his yacht. Upon his arrival in Sidi Bou Saïd, he phoned Bourguiba Junior to tell him: I buy Zembra. The answer was immediate: Tunisia is not for sale!
In 1985, following the Israeli bombing of the Palestinian headquarters in Hammam-Chatt, the Tunisian government decided to install a radar that would cover the gulfs of Tunis and Hammamet, and also a good part of the north and south of Tunisia. He had to give it up. Due to the relief of Zembra, it was difficult to mount the radar. Finally, it is on the heights of Jebel Sidi Abderrahmen, the highest point all Cape Bon, that it was installed. But in April 2008, part of the island was nearly sold to Chinese by the family of the deposed president to build a tourist complex.
The ecologists and intellectuals had united to defend and save Zembra. They did it thanks to the Americans who had opposed the Chinese getting into such a strategic place.
This jewel of the Mediterranean, which includes an island, Zembra, and an island, Zembretta, has remained an ecological paradise where the fauna and flora are admirably preserved. This is why the site has been selected by Unesco as a biosphere reserve since 1977. Became a national park, it owes its creation to the fact that it is an annual reproduction meeting place par excellence of the puffin ash on its terrestrial part and by its marine part which is protected to 1.5 nautical miles all around the two islands.
The archaeological excavations carried out by the National Heritage Institute since 1993 have spotted the passage on Zembra of the Punic, Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, and Arab civilizations, as indicated by the mosaics and vestiges near the port and the unique sandy beach. Thus, the attentive observer who goes up along the track leading to Oued Zitoun and the Cathedral will find, at the height of the House of the poet, many shards of obsidian from Pantelleria in Italy. According to other analyzes, there was the discovery of human bones dating back to 3,000 or 4,000 BC. AD
Other recent excavations beside the sandy beach have uncovered important mosaics from the Carthaginian and Roman periods. Important hydraulic developments in the form of dams, large cisterns, and wells, show that the island was inhabited in antiquity.
Other archaeological surveys have found traces of industries related to the exploitation of the sea, including the manufacture of purple from limpets. Comparing the flora of Zembra with the continent and especially with Cape Bon, one notices the absence of rosemary. Of the 266 plant species. on the island, wild olive and juniper are the only trees, the center is covered with lentisks, heather, arbutus, and cistus that do not exceed 2 meters, the dwarf palm is abundant even on the Cathedral, this great rock detached north-west of the island.
Floristic species are quite refined to that of Kroumirie, Mogods, and Cape Bon. There are rare species, some endemic, Algerian-Tunisian, North-Mediterranean and others of the Western Mediterranean and more precisely Sardinia. The caper people average heights and Ain Kabbar who bears his name. Wild cabbage, the ancestor of cauliflower, exists on the island in Oued el Krombit, before arriving at the cave of the pigeons.
The divers of the La Marsa club were dazzled by the clearness and transparency of the waters of Zembra, the richness of its marine fauna and flora at the bottom of the sea, on the rocks and cavities in a symphony of colors. The wild rabbit was introduced by Punic and Roman sailors to provide a ‘safe harbor’ on the island during storms and bad weather, as evidenced by carbon-14 analyzes of the bones found on the island. unique plain to the north of the port and to Onk Ejmel that are more than 4,000 years old. Currently, the distribution on the island of the wild rabbit is in decline!
In 1884, a botanist testified that Italian fishermen loaded their boats with fagots to feed the bakery ovens on the mainland. Zembra enjoys very important marine biodiversity. Indeed, a marine current coming from the Atlantic Ocean, crossing the Moroccan and Algerian coasts, ends by rounding Zembra and Zembretta and ends its race by crashing on the gulf of Tunis. This stream is rich in nutrients composed in addition to plankton and phytoplankton, a fish feed source, at the bottom of the marine food chain. Thus, mackerel, sardine, and anchovy strips made the southern coast of Sardinia, the Strait of Sicily, and essentially off the Gulf of Tunis a privileged place for feeding. But this law of the food chain gave birth to a predator of size: the bluefin tuna, which, in its Mediterranean tour, stays in the surroundings to fatten these bands of bluefish and to continue its road thereafter. This stay is not without surprise for the tunas, the fishermen of Sidi Daoud give them nets which only they know the secret to drain them in the ‘Matanza’, the chamber of the death, before finishing in the cans and our plates. These bluefish, sardines, and anchovies have another predator, the gray shearwater, this marine bird with a life cycle of six months on the high seas reaching the Portuguese and Mauritanian coasts in the Atlantic and six months in Zembra to breed.
95% of the Mediterranean population, take care, is composed of 140 thousand pairs of Ashen shearwaters finding refuge in the cavities, caves, bushes, and rocks of Zembra to build nests that they visit only at night to change partner for brooding. To recognize themselves, the shearwaters shout like a large crib of crying babies. With its 125 cm opening of the wings, the gray shearwater does not find any difficulty to sail with or against the wind, its cruising speed of 50 km / h reaches 90 km / h. Glider par excellence, he managed to follow the bands of fish up to the coasts of Annaba in Algeria and the Gulf of Sirte in Libya; but this is amazing, very rarely in the Gulf of Gabes. It seems to me that it avoids shoals because it dives up to 9 m to catch fish. The individual who does not brood the single egg alternately with the partner spends the night on the water. During the day, the average of his time is distributed: 35% for foraging, 25% for travel, and 40% on the water. It is not surprising that the Ashen shearwaters are highly concentrated on feeding areas and relatively close to the colony. The number of short trips made in the waters of the Gulf of Tunis, 50 km from the colony, indicates that this area is of vital importance for the feeding of the gray shearwaters.
Zimbra records on its 389 ha one of the largest concentrations of peregrine falcons in the world with 10 couples and a couple of falcons. The peregrine falcon, the master of heavens par excellence, the fastest creature in the world, also has its ‘guardian’ technique on the island.
Indeed, at the beginning of the autumn and at the time of the North-South migration, the migratory birds cross the Mediterranean coming from Europe, and since Zembra is on one of the migratory corridors, passerines, turtledoves, and others exhausted by the journey gain the island to rest.
As soon as a bird ventures to continue the journey to Africa, a peregrine falcon of the 10 couples who are all on the lookout is responsible for folding it on the island. As soon as he sees it, he gains altitude and then makes a majestic peak reaching 300 to 380 km / h, and because of this, the hawks keep the living food for them and for their offspring instead of going bring it back from Cap Bon, 15 km away. In 1964, King Baudouin of Belgium had offered to Bourguiba a couple of mouflons from Corsica, entrusted to the General Directorate of Forests. They were transferred to Oued Zitoun, northwest of Zembra.
Currently 42, they suffer a high death rate because of thirst because, in August, the only source in Oued Zitoun is dry. After more than 50 years, the herd has not yet discovered the northeast side of the island where the source of Ain Kabbar is located because of the natural separation of a large rock, called Babur by its shape reminiscent of a large liner.
The nature reserve of Zembra and Zembretta, the great Jamour and the little Jamour, as Asfour called them, the man who had dedicated his whole life to this site by considering him as one of his children, owes his conservation and protection to the two great activists of the ecological cause, Ali El Hili and Abdallah Ben Dhafer said Asfour, to which I owe my training. The Zembra and Zembretta Nature Reserve still hold rich and well-preserved secrets. Researchers and scientists are called upon to redouble their efforts to unveil them.
By Abdelmajid Dabbar