Whither Turkey's Wetlands?

african flamingo turkey wetlands gediz delta photo
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An African flamingo chick, a rare sight on Turkey's Gediz Delta. Photo via Doğa Derneği

World Wetlands Day passed with nary a mention around here, but Turkish environmentalists took the opportunity earlier this month to assess the state of the country's wetlands, and they were not optimistic. But despite the threats faced, there are some bright spots too.

At a panel in Bodrum, on Turkey's western Mediterranean coast, businesspeople, government officials, and members of environmental groups discussed the importance of the area's wetlands to its tourism industry and ecology and called for them to be protected so they don't end up dried out like so many lakes in central Anatolia. (The part of Turkey that is located within Asia, comprising most of the country's land mass, is referred to as Anatolia.)

Water Mismanagement
"Wrong water policies pursued over the last 50 years have created salt deserts in the place of life-giving lakes in central Anatolia," Osman Erdem, the general director of the Kuş Araştırmaları Derneği (Bird Research Association), wrote in a statement released the same day. "Water sources are drying up and Anatolia is quickly becoming desert. Water [is] life and people's most basic need. The birds were the first to leave central Anatolia. Soon the people's turn will come."

Erdem's statement, released along with the heads of two other leading Turkish environmental organizations, the Doğa Derneği (Nature Association) and WWF-Turkey [all three environmental groups' web pages are in Turkish only], pointed the finger more at government mismanagement than climate change, though both certainly play a role in desertification.

Two Bright Spots
Though the need to protect them is serious, the news for Turkey's wetlands isn't all bad. The Doğa Derneği is working with Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream company and the municipalities of İzmir to protect the İzmir Bird Preserve on the Gediz Delta in western Turkey and they have met with some success. Home to 10 percent of the world's flamingos and hundreds of other bird species--as well as a major source of salt production in the country--the delta was once on the brink of being paved over. The Doğa Derneği was able to stop construction of a housing project there and the delta now has an official management plan and a local administration set up to protect it. In January, a young African flamingo was seen in the Gediz Delta [link to news in Turkish], making it the 285th bird species to have been observed there. It was only the second time that this type of flamingo, the smallest and darkest-pink-colored of the world's six flamingo species, has been spotted in Turkey.

The story of Lake Bafa in Aydın, between Izmir and Bodrum, is also a promising one. Another important habitat for birds, the lake was declared a "protected area" in 1989 but has diminished in size and become quite polluted, affecting not only wildlife but local fishing and tourism industries. WWF-Turkey is working with Coca-Cola Turkey to install an efficient new irrigation system on nearby agricultural lands that will leave more water available for Lake Bafa. The $1 million project is expected to take five years and reach some 3,000 farmers in a dozen nearby villages.