Sea Turtles in Tyre

October 3, 2010  •  Category:


When my intrepid cousin flagged me to join her and a dozen of her friends on a weekend trip to Tyre, I was thrilled.

Tyre is a  port-city on the Southern coast of Lebanon. Most famous for its Roman ruins (there is a  Roman hippodrome that was designed to seat 20,000 people!); for its Phoenician merchants who would take off  from there  to colonize many ports in the Mediterranean; for its arduous conquest by Alexander the Great, who laid siege to the city for seven months; and  for its numerous mentions in the Bible.

My cousin said ” We are staying at the Orange House, bring your bathing suit and the essentials”.

A Santa Fe-style two-story Bed and Breakfast, bordered  by citrus and banana trees and flanked by a semi-private three-mile long beach on its West side, this was the Orange House.

It is on this beach, about ten years ago, that Mona (owner) and Habiba (her right-hand), suddenly saw  by a moonless night, a giant sea turtle. This encounter followed many others and soon the two ladies found themselves taking care of  dozens of  sea turtles who were digging their nests in the beach in front of their house. Protecting these eggs from predators ( foxes who would prowl the beach, or fishermen who would sell turtle meat for a song to some UN soldiers stationed in the area); constantly cleaning the beach, setting up wire nets on the eggs for protection,  treating the injured turtles, and making sure no dynamite or poison was ever used by fishermen (unfortunately a hard habit to break),  were some of the tasks that these courageous ladies began to undertake, sometimes risking their lives in the process.

In addition to a sea turtle refuge, the Orange House is an organic orchard, and is home to a few goats and hens. The income from the rental of rooms funds the turtle conservation project. There are no NGO grants or governmental funding available to cushion these ladies relentless efforts.

Listening to  Mona El-Khalil, I heard her voice her concern in case a peace agreement was signed. When I asked her why, she replied that “Peace will mean only one thing: this entire strip of coast land will become one big commercial development with hotels and resorts, the turtles will never come back, and the miles of banana and citrus plantations will disappear”.

I hate to admit it, but she is absolutely right.

The Orange House  is surrounded by an organic orchard, with scores of banana trees, avocado,  papaya and mango, cherimoyas  and passion fruits;  date trees; jujube, grapefruit, citrus and bitter orange orchards, in addition to herbs and common vegetables.

Breakfast was an array of fresh cheeses, all from goats, raised in a nearby farm. Jams made from their trees as well: apricot, mulberries, candied clementines, lemon jam, all with thin, whole-grain markook bread made in the Chouf mountains.

Most notably, a fresh slice of  papaya from the orchard, that I topped with some areesh cheese. Areesh is similar to a ricotta and is made at a local farm with goat milk.

To contact the Orange House, click here.

To contact the farm in Tyre making fresh organic Lebanese cheese, such as areesh,labneh,  halloumi, nabulsi, call Ali Jaber (961) 07-76 15 45 or (03) 26 18 95


32 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. mylittleexpatkitchen says:

    These ladies are indeed courageous. It is so wonderful that there are people like that in the world, protecting helpless animals and seeing that everyone respects their habitat.
    Great experience Joumana.

  2. deana says:

    My particular animal favorite is elephants and supporting sanctuaries… but I love the docile slow moving turtle and bless these women for defending them. Thanks for telling their story!

  3. A Canadian Foodie says:

    What a very special experience… and these are the very turtles that used to be eaten as a delicacy, aren’t they? or was it their eggs? To have a weekend like this is a treasure.

  4. 5 Star Foodie says:

    What a fantastic experience! Those ladies taking care of turtles are wonderful! Thanks for sharing this!

  5. carina says:

    How courageous and dedicated those ladies are!!! To hear of stories like this always give me hope for the selfish human nature. Wish I could go there for a while to help and experience it. Thanks for sharing their story!!

  6. Pamela says:

    OMG ! When I saw the title of this post I thought you had eaten sea turtle in Tyre! What a relief it was to learn about these wonderful women, who , no wonder! don’t get any help to protect the turtles. The peace issue is tricky, we protect sea turtles, but we don’t care if people keep dying in an endless conflict?

    • Joumana says:

      Pamela: Of course we care! It is simply realizing that in times of peace or stability in Lebanon, developers run wild; Look at Beirut and the entire norther coast, it is one demolition after another and pretty soon there won’t be any old mansions left. Politicians don’t help unfortunately. The environment is not a big concern for people here in charge or people with a lot of money.

  7. Anita says:

    Such a refreshing experience. These ladies are amazing!

  8. Jojo says:

    What an interesting place to visit. We went to Tyre but were unaware of this B&B.

  9. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) says:

    It is so good to learn of people like this. Joumana, have you moved back?!? How long is your vacation in Lebanon? It is wonderful. You must plan a tour for some of us envious folk.

  10. Sushma Mallya says:

    Lovely post, and great pics…

  11. Sheridan says:

    I love Tyre, My husband’s Dad is from Tyre so we always make a point of staying at the Rest House there when we go to Lebanon. I love reading your blog I miss Lebanon! I need to go this coming year!

  12. sophia says:

    Oh holy goodness. This place sounds wonderful…banana trees, avocado, papaya and mango, cherimoyas and passion fruits trees, date trees, jujube, grapefruit, citrus and bitter orange orchard…oh wow. It’s like the Garden of Eve.

  13. joudie kalla says:

    Joumana this sounds just heavenly! I would love to be there right now. The trees, the fruit, the sea, the turtles, the house….. HEAVEN!

  14. abaretruth says:

    I’ve been a year ago. I stayed at al-fanar on the port of tyre. I visited the orange house, no turtles showed up that day. It was May. I would love to go again. I loved the place

  15. Janane says:

    Dear Joumana, Your depiction of this week end is so true. I enjoyed it a lot. Lovely pictures there. You really have an eye at thins. Thanks for such a sensitive appproach

  16. Joanne says:

    This sounds like such a lovely place for a lovely mini vacation. I think what these ladies are doing for the turtles is so admirable.

  17. Heni says:

    Lovely story thanks for sharing Joumana!

  18. Conor @ HoldtheBeef says:

    Wow, it really isn’t something that you think of when you consider the ramifications of a peace agreement.

    Food for thought.

  19. SYLVIA says:

    This sweet, delicious fruit cleanses and soothes the whole digestive tract. An outstanding breakfast and a very nice combination with ricotta cheese, I would also add some toasted almonds for that extra crunch. Excellent recipe Joumana, very clean and very nutritious. Papaya is a potassium, and antioxidant heavyweight.
    Although sea turtles are protected under the endangered species, they live between the waves and return to surface to breathe, unfortunately fishermen catch them for their tortoise shell, how sad.

  20. Adelina says:

    Thanks for teaching me about this place. It sounds like a nice getaway. Best of luck to the 2 caring ladies.

  21. Bria @ WestofPersia says:

    What an amazing bunch of people and an enchanted place. It’s interesting about the possible consequences of peace. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  22. northshorewoman says:

    very interesting post. I commend those women of The Orange House in their turtle saving work! It is unsung heroes such as these women who make a difference. What a lovely and informative visit you had. This is the best kind of travelling. I hope to visit the Orange House one day and meet these two amazing women!

  23. sweffling says:

    Your description and photos make it sound like the Garden of Eden. These two brave ladies deserve every respect for what they are doing. I find the endless human insistence on development for profit very depressing. People need a reasonable living but humans are so greedy. And very few have the guts that Mona and Habiba have to stand up to hunters and fishermen. These can be very, very scary.

    I hope that exposure on your blog results in more support for the Orange House. Well done and I am so glad that you had a good time as well!

  24. Jean says:

    It is people like Mona who raise awareness for the plight of helpless animals and over time, hopefully, others follow suit. That is truly a beautiful piece of coastline and I would also hate to see it overrun by one hotel after another. It’s happened already everywhere else.

  25. cedarsfan says:

    Hello Joumana
    I loved your description and photos of your week end in Orange House . I felt as being there . It is a great idea to describe special spots in addition to recipes . Good luck !

  26. nada says:

    I love your site . very ,very nice .

  27. Leni says:

    Dear Mona
    I just find this site and read about your seaturtles .. I am glad and happy for you that you are so fine and found your ideal to live in your so beloved farm with its nature as you always wished . It is a pity that we lost contact although I have send you emails . I saw your picture and recognised the Mona I knew , your face with so many memories attached to it . The name of your house is still orange and will always remind you of the time you stayed with me and my family . During the years so many things have changed but although we are separated I will never ever forget you and now I am confronted with your picture I am faced with time growing older and please forget the bad days and remeber the good ones . Dear Mona I wish you all the best and live in peace ….

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