Development on Specially Protected nesting beach, taking its toll.
Unplanned construction and developments to accommodate tourism are threatening Fethiye, one of the most important loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting sites in Turkey.
Fethiye is one of a dozen key Caretta caretta nesting beaches in Turkey (Margaritoulis et al. 2003). Severe damage is occurring despite the fact that the region is a Specially Protected Area (Council of Ministers’ Decision 88/13019, 12.06.1988). Threats to the nesting population have continuously been increasing since Baran & Kasparek’s first assessment in 1988, resulting in serious nesting decline since 1993 (Türkozan, 2000; Türkozan, 2003; Oruç et al. 2003; Ilgaz et al. 2007). In spite of the drop in nesting (peak 191 nests in 1995, lowest value 58 in 2004) the average number of nests for 12 consecutive years still makes this beach one of the most important nesting sites in Turkey (8.8% of the nests laid annually) (Ilgaz et al 2007).
Fethiye has three beach sections: Çalış (2.5 km), Yanıklar (4.5 km) and Akgöl (1 km). Wetlands behind the beaches have been bulldozed for the construction of huge hotel complexes, topped by snack bars and cafes situated right on the nesting beaches, offering motorised water sport activities in the bay, placing wooden walkways on the sand and dense rows of beach furniture which remain on the beach on a 24-hour basis. Strong lighting is used during the night and visitors freely roam the beaches until the small hours. Artificial plastic carpeting covers part of Çalış nesting beach and huge stones have been placed to delineate this area. 800 acacia trees, an introduced species known for its extensive rooting, were densely planted along a 150 metre stretch of Çalış beach. Quads and trucks pass freely through the beaches and there is car access to virtually every beach. Giant picnics occupy the beach especially during the weekends. The garbage problem is entirely unsolved, there has been sand removal and fishing occurs directly off all three of Fethiye’s nesting beaches.
The problems outlined are merely a selection of the most serious current threats. The destruction of Fethiye nesting beaches, combined with the ongoing destruction of immediately adjoining wetlands for major upcoming construction projects, are incompatible with the Special Protected Area status of the region. Throughout the Mediterranean the stress on this endangered species is already enormous and beaches as important as Fethiye should be meticulously protected through implementation and enforcement of national and international conservation regulations.
The Fethiye case at the Bern Convention
In its Recommendation No. 66 (1998) on the conservation status of some nesting beaches for marine turtles in Turkey, the Bern Convention Standing Committee asked the Turkish government to “secure the remaining un-built beach plots against development” in Fethiye. In September 2009 MEDASSET submitted a complaint to the Bern Convention Secretariat regarding the case and has followed up on the situation with two updated reports (March and September 2010).
Following MEDASSET’s complaint submission, the issue was discussed at the 2010 Bern Convention Meeting (6-8 December 2010, Strasbourg, France). MEDASSET informed the Meeting about unsuccessful nesting attempts by turtles hatchling disorientation incidents, the severe decline of nesting due to human impacts and the authorities’ intention to allow further development on the last remaining wetlands for the construction of a shipyard next to Akgöl nesting beach. Two large posters were set-up in front of the entrance to the Convention meeting room, detailing through photographs and text the situation on Fethiye’s nesting beaches. Delegates were also informed that MEDASSET’s short film on the appalling situation on the nesting beaches was shown at the 30th Annual International Sea Turtle Symposium in Goa, in April 2010, and was also sent to all relevant Turkish Authorities, international tour operators, the press, local hotels, etc. The Turkish Delegate to the Convention reported that the Environmental Protection Agency for Special Areas (EPASA) organised meetings in Fethiye with all relevant stakeholders in 2010, to find out about the problems in the area. EPASA also developed an Action Plan for the area to try to resolve problems and to apply beach usage principles in 2011.
In 2011, an additional development was being considered by Turkish Authorities: the relocation of the shipyard/drydock currently situated within Fethiye town, to the very middle of Fethiye’s Akgöl nesting beach (a.k.a Karaot District). During 2007 - 2009, two-thirds of all nests in Akgöl were laid next to the planned project area, i.e. on the sandy sections of the beach. In 2010, almost half of all nests in Fethiye were laid in Akgöl. The shipyard/drydock project would permanently and irrevocably destroy the key nesting sites of Akgöl beach and affect the already declining nest numbers in Fethiye SPA. MEDASSET issued a press release and expressed its objection to the project to the Turkish Authorities and informed the E.C., the Barcelona and the Bern Convention. A report was submitted to the Bern Convention, which decided to include the issue in its Bureau Meeting Agenda as an urgent matter. In response to MEDASSET’s campaign against the relocation of the shipyard/drydock currently the Co-Chairs of the Marine Turtle Specialist Group under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Chair of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention wrote to the Turkish authorities requesting that the proposed location of the new shipyard be rejected.
In May 2011, MEDASSET visited Fethiye and met with locals affected by the shipyard, Turkish researchers, and the local NGO TEMA to discuss about the Authorities' intention to build the shipyard in the area. Additionally, following the visit, MEDASSET sent another letter to the Authorities regarding the absence of conservation measures on the nesting beaches of Fethiye SPA and the lack of progress in dealing with the problems noted since 2009. The SPA Agency replied at the end of June with encouraging news, stating that conservation and management measures would be implemented. Another assessment visit by MEDASSET followed and in a report presenting an assessment of the promised measures, the most serious problems recorded during the 2011 nesting season and a list of recommendations was submitted to the Bern Convention, the Turkish Authorities, the EU, UNEP/MAP, UNDP Turkey, international and Turkish NGOs. Some measures were only partly implemented while others have damaged or could potentially damage the natural profile of the beaches and hinder nesting and hatchling emergence success. Beach furniture management, litter, light pollution and the presence of people and vehicles on the beaches at night still pose a threat and remain unresolved. However, some valuable steps were made towards the right direction in 2011 and if these are sustained and are improved in the following years the trend could be altered.
In 2012, several of the conservatione measures were not sustained, despite commitments of the Turkish authorities in 2010. Additionally, one new beachfront hotel was built, destroying the last section of the remaining wetland; one new wooden hut and a concrete patio have been installed directly onto the nesting beach. We therefore requested that the case be kept under scrutiny by the Bern Convention, and that a detailed report is requested from the Turkish Authorities regarding the conservation and management measures that shall be applied in Fethiye SPA before and during the 2013 nesting season. COLLABORATION WITH TUI INTERANTIONAL TRAVEL GROUP TO PROMOTE SEA TURTLE PROTECTION IN TURKEY
TUI AG, in response to MEDASSET’s film “Turkey’s Turtles in Trouble” organised the Meeting “Travellers without boundaries - Kick-off event for implementation of sea turtle protection measures in the Dalaman region” on May 24th in Sarigerme, Turkey. MEDASSET and Dr. Yakup Kaska presented the deteriorating state of the nesting beaches in Fethiye and Sarigerme due to tourism. Hoteliers and representatives of the TUI Group (UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany) were informed on the measures needed to protect the nesting population and the hatchlings. In collaboration with MEDASSET, DEKAMER and the newly-established Kaptan June Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation, TUI has produced guides in English, Turkish and German for guests and hoteliers, with instructions on how to ensure sea turtle protection on nesting beaches in Turkey. Information signs for the nesting beaches have aslo been installed.
“Turkey’s Sea Turtles in Trouble”
The short film “Turkey’s Sea Turtles in Trouble”, was produced during September 2009 and visits the sea turtle nesting beaches at Fethiye with the aim to draw the viewer’s attention to the lack of protection at this important nesting beach.