Road construction plans over flamingo sanctuary in Turkey’s west stir debate

Road construction plans over flamingo sanctuary in Turkey’s west stir debate

Yücel Sönmez - İZMİR
Road construction plans over flamingo sanctuary in Turkey’s west stir debate Turkish environmentalists have condemned plans to construct a road that will pass through the nature reserve of the Gediz Delta, one of the most important sites for the breeding of flamingoes in the country.

Some 20,000 flamingoes have come to the area in the western province of İzmir for the past nine years to breed as a result of a protocol carried out jointly by the Forestry and Water Affairs Ministry, İzmir Municipality, non-governmental organizations and academics.

A protocol signed between the Conservation and Development Union of the İzmir Bird Sanctuary (İZKUŞ) and the ministry’s General Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks in 2008 was not renewed by the ministry after it ended four months ago. 

Joint efforts were being carried out in line with the protocol and projects, including the creation of the world’s biggest horizontal flamingo island. 

The number of flamingoes arriving in the area has increased year by year with the help of preservation efforts and the construction of flamingo nests by academics, NGOs, authorities and volunteers. The number of flamingoes totaled 20,000 this year. 

However, the cancellation of the protocol has prompted mutual accusations on the part of İzmir Municipality and the ministry. The ministry has accused the municipality of not fulfilling its responsibilities in the area and not making investments, while the municipality has blamed the ministry for acting arbitrarily. 

The cancellation of the protocol has also paved the way for the construction of a road. 

İzmir Mayor and İZKUŞ head Aziz Kocaoğlu said the total amount spent on the İzmir Bird Sanctuary had reached 26 million Turkish Liras. 

“Ignoring all the efforts spent on the bird sanctuary with the support of İzmir Municipality and directing heavy accusations like ‘You didn’t do anything’ are not attitudes that suit the seriousness of a state,” Kocaoğlu told daily Hürriyet, adding that they had mobilized all their potential for the preservation of the area. 

He also said the municipality was not against investments but wished to protect the area. 

Moreover, Kocaoğlu said the duration for the obtaining of an environmental impact report (ÇED) differed significantly for the ministry and the municipality. 

“While we obtained a ÇED report for our project in the gulf in 4.5 years, the ministry obtained a ÇED approval in six months for a bridge and tube tunnel. I’m not against the project, but a ÇED report that was issued in six months for such a project means that it was prepared without enough examinations and studies,” he said. 

NGOs, on the other hand, are furious at both the ministry and the municipality. 

Doğa Derneği, the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects Chambers (TMMOB), the Aegean Environment and Culture Platform (EGEÇEP) and 85 citizens also filed a complaint to demand the cancellation of the project on the grounds that the road was designed to open the area up to development and unearned income.

Speaking about the project, Professor Mehmet Sıkı from Ege University said all of the efforts expended over the past nine years were now at risk.

Concerned citizens cannot celebrate the fact that a breeding record will be broken by the end of this year due to the cancellation of the protocol, Sıkı said, while urging the sides to work with each other to resolve the issue. 

The planned İzmir Gulf Passage project features a 12.6-kilometer-long highway and a 16.4-kilometer-long rail system. 

In the sea part of the highway route, there will be a 4.2-kilometer-long gulf bridge, 1.9-kilometer-long sunken tube tunnel and an artificial island 880 meters in length connecting the aforementioned two structures to each other. 

Construction on the project is expected to begin this year before the road link opens in 2023.