Don’t do this in Turkey’s protected areas

Don’t do this in Turkey’s protected areas

One of the missions of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is to ensure that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable. Biodiversity research that the WWF conducted in Turkey in 2002 in Antalya-Patara revealed that the Kaş district on the Mediterranean has special significance.

The Special Environmental Protection Area (ÖÇKB), which had previously covered nearby Kekova due to its cultural and historic importance, was expanded to include Kaş after the WFF’s research. Public institutions and local fishermen discussed for months how to form a management plan for the sea in the Kaş-Kekova region. Principles were drafted. Capacity-building work was done and training was conducted. 

Now, there is a management plan at hand but there is no administrative mechanism to apply it. Monitoring should be done but who will conduct it is still not known.

After the 2011 general election, ÖÇKB directorates were abolished and a Directorate General for the Preservation of Natural Heritage was formed to replace them. Administrative units that would have dealt with these areas locally were thus removed and the jurisdiction was given to the office of the district governors and provincial directorates. In other words, they were centralized.

There were functioning personnel, offices, business plans, budgets and vehicles regarding each of these areas. They conducted checks with coast guards, monitored restaurants, and carried out protective work. The ÖÇKB, which had been autonomous before, lost its strong structure when it was converted into a general directorate and centralized.

You don’t need to be Einstein to understand that the aim was to break the strong structure of the ÖÇKB regional directorates and to create a more controllable institution, to enhance control from the center. This change had serious consequences for protected areas. 

The correct thing to do now is to return this structure to its former self. 

But in the meantime there are other things to be done too. The WWF, within a project it started this year, is preparing a sustainable tourism plan for the Kaş-Kekova region. The source of many problems in the sea is on land. Tourism on land must be transformed into a form that does not damage nature or pollute the environment. 

This region is important in terms of biodiversity - not only for Turkey but also for the whole Mediterranean. Species such as the Mediterranean seal, sea turtles and groupers are under threat. Healthy reproduction of the species in the sea depends on the existence of sea grass beds. In order to protect the sea grass beds, boats should be prevented from anchoring in them. This can be achieved by placing over 160 buoys in 26 different locations. But the buoys are expensive and the WWF is searching for funds.

Tourists like us who visit the region also have a duty. To protect the population of grouper fish there from decreasing further, we should not eat groupers that are spearfished or shorter than 45 cm.  

We should not feed the sea turtles, fishes and other species in the sea. We should not allow boats to anchor above sea grass beds. Diving should not be done in areas that are supposed to be closed to diving; we should boycott diving organizations that provide that. We should not collect stones, pebbles, sea shells and plants from nature. We should not buy souvenirs made from sea shells. We should not litter and leave our trash behind in nature.

At restaurants where we eat, at stores where we shop, and at other places whose services we use, we should ask what they do for the protected area. This questioning may encourage them to support the area more decisively. 

Even if we don’t do anything else, at the very least we should adopt and abide by these principles.