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Environmental group threatens campaign over villas in southern Turkey

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 5/20/2011 12:00:00 AM | IPEK YEZDANİ

A leading international environmental organization is preparing to launch a campaign against the construction of 400-750 villas in a ecologically sensitive area in Antalya.

A leading international environmental organization is preparing to launch a worldwide campaign against the construction of 400-750 villas near a site used as a nesting site by sea turtles in southern Turkey.

Medasset, the organization behind the campaign, sent a letter to a number of Turkish ministers earlier in the month, demanding that they halt the planned construction of the houses near Patara in the southern province of Antalya.

“This plan will not only have a horrible impact on sea turtles, but it will also have a horrible impact on the Patara archaeological site. It is also the birth place of St. Nicholas who is a holy figure for Christians. So I don’t believe Patara belongs to Turkey, Patara belongs to the whole world. There will be a big fuss on this,” Medasset head Lily Venizelos told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview on Friday.

Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay and Parliamentary Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin should “not sacrifice Patara to tourism and development,” Medasset said in its letter.

The group’s campaign will include a number of other environmental organizations, including the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEP.

If the Turkish government does not respond to Medasset’s letter in the near future, the group will launch an international campaign to stop the construction of the villas and summer houses, Venizelos said.

“We have been campaigning internationally since 1988 for the protection of Patara’s precious biodiversity and unique heritage site through the ‘Save Patara’ campaign; we fought very hard to stop this damage, but now all of a sudden there is this plan coming out with an incredible extension of buildings which will destroy Patara,” said Venizelos.

[HH] Letter to Turkish ministers

Venizelos asked in her letter if the plan to build 400 to 750 villas on the hillside in Gelemiş village near the ancient city of Patara had been officially approved, and, if so, if an Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out for this development.

Venizelos said the housing developments opposed the "Scientific Study for a Management Plan for the Patara Specially Protected Area,” which was financed by the World Bank and prepared by the Culture Ministry and the Directorate of Specially Protected Areas in 1996 and 1997.

In their letter, Medasset expressed “extreme concern” about the construction of villas and summer houses in the unique, specially protected site.

“This development, which opposes modern practices concerning protected areas and endangered species conservation, and contradicts Turkey’s intent to include Patara on the World Heritage List, will destroy Patara’s ecological and historical heritage,” Venizelos said in the letter. “I appeal to you to consider the richness and uniqueness of this area before it is irrevocable destroyed by human activities and sacrificed to tourism and development.”

Patara’s ecosystem is unique along the Turkish Mediterranean coast, hosting a variety of habitats, sand dune systems, small freshwater wetlands and other natural phenomena. It is also one of the most important nesting areas in Turkey for Caretta caretta sea turtles, a species listed as endangered and protected through numerous international conventions to which Turkey is a contracting party.

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