Kerkennah Islands

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Kerkennah Islands is located in Tunisia
Kerkennah Islands off the coast of the Gulf of Gabes
Kerkennah Islands seen from space

Kerkennah Islands (Arabic: جزر قرقنة‎) are a group of islands lying off the east coast of Tunisia in the Gulf of Gabes, at 34°42′N 11°11′E / 34.7°N 11.183°E / 34.7; 11.183. The Islands are low-lying being no more than 13 metres above sea level. The main islands are Chergui and Gharbi. The archipelago has an area of 160 km2 and a population of 14,400 (2006).

Kerkennah's main town, Remla (on Chergui) has a population of 2,000. The population of the islands significantly decreased during the 1980s due to drought. The islands were unable to provide suitable irrigation systems and, with clean water rapidly running out, many islanders were forced to leave for mainland Tunisia, the nearest town being Sfax.

Kerkennah has a lengthy, but simple history. The natives of Tunisia and Kerkennah originally settled there, but during the spread of the Roman Empire, Kerkennah was used as a port and look-out point by the Romans, to keep note of off-shore activity. In 2 B.C, Augustus exiled Sempronius Gracchus, a lover of Julia the Elder, to the islands for 14 years for his shameful indiscretions with his then married daughter. However, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Kerkennah reverted to the natives. To this day, Kerkennah has been relatively untouched by modernization, and remains beautiful in its natural state.

The islands are warm and dry, with strong prevailing winds. This is mainly due to its positioning in the Gulf of Gabes, with strong sea winds (Gharbi), carried over the mainland, making them hot and dry. What little water vapour there is, is lost over cooler Tunisia first. This causes the general ecology of the island to mainly consist of tall xerophytic (and often halophytic) flora, such as palms and saltbushes.

The land is arid, as if desertification was imminent. Agriculture, therefore, is not a key industry of Kerkennah, the islanders rely more on a self-sufficient basis, such as owning chickens and goats for their own personal consumption. Fishing, including a lot of octopus fishing, is also a key industry of Kerkennah, where it is exported to mainland Tunisia and other nearby countries.

Relative to the mainland and as a result of the lack of tourist attracting "endless" sandy beaches, tourism is limited in Kerkennah. Many mainland Tunisians spend their holidays in Kerkennah, and many more affluent Tunisians often build private second homes on the island. The Kerkennians have a negative view of road building on their island; apart from the main roads linking the port and main towns, there are only dirt tracks, which is how they desire it to stay. This causes a far from homogeneous appearance. There are some British and German tourists, but German tourism declined after a severe storm hit Kerkennah one year[citation needed] . Such storms are rare for Kerkennah, but temperatures remain high, with a minimum of 15°C and often reaching 48°C.