Turkey’s bad agricultural policy killed thousands of baby flamingos, say environmentalists

Due to bad projects implemented in Turkey’s great lakes, local flamingos have lost several of their natural habitats in the country over the last 70 years, during which time Turkey lost more than 60 percent of its wetlands, 51 environmental and ecologist organisations said in a statement on Friday.

The habitats in the Lake Seyfe, Ereğli Marshes, Sultan Marshes, Karapınar Plains and Acıgöl have already been irrevocably lost, and only Salt Lake and the Gediz Delta remain, according to the statement published by Evrensel newspaper.

Salt Lake (“Tuz Gölü”) is Turkey’s second largest lake and one of the largest hypersaline lakes in the world.

The majority of the Konya Closed Basin’s more than 350,000 hectares in central Anatolia have dried up, and the Ereğli Marshes have reduced to some 250 hectares from its former 21,000, the organisations said.

“Protecting the last of Turkey’s wetlands must be our priority,” they said. “Otherwise, we will inevitably lose Salt Lake and other important bodies, along with tens of thousands of animals that live there.”

The statement came after nature photographer Fahri Tunç last week documented thousands of dead baby flamingos along the receding shoreline of the Salt Lake. Northern Forests Defence, an advocacy group for the last remaining forestland in Turkey’s megacity Istanbul, said the mass deaths had occurred due to waterways feeding the lake being cut off to be used in irrigation.

It is estimated that some 5,000 baby flamingos have died at the Salt Lake this year, as the birds laid their eggs along their migration route, BBC Turkish reported on Wednesday. The Environment Ministry recorded 20,381 flamingos hatching in 2019 in the region.

Waters have receded up to 1.5 kilometres, Tunç told the BBC. The photographer believes this year’s lack of rainfall, combined with what he calls “savage irrigation”, caused the drastic lack of water for all animals around the lake.

State Hydraulic Works should have protected the lake, Tunç said. Instead, farmers cutting off waterways completely to direct the incoming waters to their crops were given free pass.

Salt Lake is a first-degree protected natural site, and as such, no activity should be allowed that would result in damage to the environment and landscape in and around it.

 “There have been flamingo deaths in this area before,” Chairwoman of the Nature Association Tuğba Kılıç told Voice of America on Wednesday. “Why? Because even if there is little water that year, we do not plan our agriculture accordingly, and thus the water is not enough for both agriculture and the flamingos and other wildlife.”

Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said the deaths had been due to heightened saline concentration in the lake’s waters due to evaporation. “I would like to say that the matter is not directly or indirectly related to the wells and irrigation in the area,” the minister told reporters.

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