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Bodrum Peninsula's only wetland at risk of perishing

BODRUM - Radikal | 4/11/2010 12:00:00 AM | SERKAN OCAK

Akdeniz Lake near Gölköy is nourished by underground waters. It is the only wetland on the Bodrum Peninsula. A small area by the lake is home to rare date palms.

Hasan Akkaya, a 70-year-old resident of Bodrum’s Gölköy area, brings his three cows every day to the pastures surrounding Akdeniz Lake. He is a witness to much of the history of the lake date palms that have been in the area for hundreds of years, but have recently succumbed to mysterious fires.

“This is one of four places in the whole world [that have these trees]. It is like a son to me,” said Akkaya. “How can someone burn these date palms? How can someone think of destroying this lake?”

“They will build something like a golf course or a helipad [here],” he said. “I’ve been in Gölköy for 70 years and one who appreciates the beauty here would not trade it, even for millions.”

Akdeniz Lake, which neighbors Gölköy, is nourished by underground waters. It is the only wetland on the Bodrum Peninsula. A small area by the lake is home to the date palms, which can be considered a historical asset.

The date palms in the area are a kind of hybrid species of Phoenix dactylifera, the common date palm, and are known as “Gölköy dates.” Such trees are found in only four locations in the world – Baghdad, Crete, Datça and Gölköy. According to legend, the seeds of the palms were brought to Gölköy by an Ottoman sultan.

The area has been the target of developers who envision projects ranging from building a helicopter landing pad on the wetlands to constructing a golf course. Some have dreamed of having a football field in the area, while others have proposed an attraction center that would house alligators.

The reality is that Akdeniz Lake and its surrounding area, which is a first-degree natural protection zone, faces the risk of perishing. Last summer, unidentified people poured gasoline on the date palms and set them on fire. It was the third fire in the area.

A channel has been built between the lake and the sea and the lake’s water mixes with salty seawater. There are mountains of garbage around the lake and the construction boom in the surrounding area is a major threat to the ecosystem. The General Directorate of Natural Parks warned in a recent memo that Akdeniz Lake is about to lose its identity as a wetland.

Ferdi Yeşil, another Gölköy resident, was fishing in Akdeniz Lake. “There used to be much more fish in the lake,” the construction worker said. “Once I caught a 2.5-kilogram perch here. Now there almost aren’t any fish. I heard that they are planning to build a housing complex in the area.” Yeşil did not catch anything that day.

Some villagers claim that the palms were burned up by municipality officials. Göltürkbükü Mayor Halil İbrahim Kaynar denied the accusations.

“It is totally a lie, I never ordered anyone to burn down trees,” said the mayor, who was re-elected last year for a third consecutive five-year term and promised in his election campaign that he would build a golf course in the area.

“We want the area to be cleaned up and used for the public,” Kaynar said. “For starters, the area is a swamp and causes mosquitoes. It should be rehabilitated, but no one but a crazy person would burn down trees.”

The mayor believes that the area can be used for a golf course. “A nine-hole course can be built there. It is allowed to build golf courses in natural protection zones,” he said. “The area belongs to the Treasury, but it neither hands the area over to us nor takes care of the problems.”

If the golf course is ever built, Kaynar added, the municipality would run it and would cooperate with nongovernmental organizations and be very sensitive about not damaging the environment.

The Blue Way Initiative, a local environmental organization, has launched an action to protect the only wetland on the Bodrum Peninsula. With the support of the Bodrum City Council, a group of academics from Ege University have conducted scientific research in the area within the scope of the Project to Save Akdeniz Lake.

No serious research has previously been done on the wetland and scientific data on the importance of the region is lacking, said Blue Way Initiative spokeswoman Filiz Dizdar. Once the new research has been completed, the initiative will decide what approach to take to preserve Akdeniz Lake and the date palms.

“Turkey has failed in preserving its wetlands,” said Dizdar. “The state spends a fortune to get back the wetlands it has dried up. The latest trend in the world is to create artificial wetlands, yet the only wetland in Bodrum is in trouble.”

According to Dizdar, development and the channel that causes the mixing of fresh and salty water are the main threats to Akdeniz Lake. “Bodrum lives on groundwater; how can you think of drying up the peninsula’s only wetland?” she asked.

Erdener Çeliğ, an expert on sea creatures, said the lake has not had an easy life. “The Agriculture Ministry declared the area a fish production zone in 1984,” he said. “A fish farm was set up here by a private firm. Luckily, it was later declared a protection zone.”

According to Çeliğ, Akdeniz Lake works as a sort of rehabilitation center for fish. “It is almost like a hospital for the fish. Sea fish come here, lay eggs. Other fish come to eat those eggs,” he said. “Crustaceans also live in the lake. This is a very unique area with a very unique ecosystem. It should be taken under complete and strict protection.”

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