Three hundred and fifty km2 of Turkey’s coastline has been brought under environmental protection in a recent announcement (22 August) by the Turkish government. This new area represents a significant advance in the actual management of the existing Marine Protected Area network of the country’s Mediterranean coast.

Existing no fishing zones (NFZ) in the Gökova bay Special Environmental Protection Area (SEPA) were expanded and new NFZs amounting to 6,500 hectares have been created in the Datça-Bozburun, Koycegiz-Dalyan, Fethiye-Gocek and Kaş-Kekova SEPAs. In addition, new “No Trawling and No-Purse-seining areas” for a total of 30,000 hectares were created in the Datça-Bozburun and Fethiye-Gocek SEPAs.

With appropriate management, these newly designated zones will provide important ‘stepping stones’, connecting the existing zones as well as providing new ones, to form an expanded network of protected areas covering a significant portion of Turkey’s coast, from the bay of Gökova to the Kaş-Kekova SEPA.

The Mediterranean Conservation Society (AKD), an active member of the MedPAN network, has been successfully leading conservation efforts in Gökova Bay SEPA since 2012. The results have been so convincing that Flora and Fauna International, a long term partner of AKD, has been supporting AKD (with the Endangered Landscapes Programme of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative) to replicate the Gökova Bay model in other parts of Turkey with the aim to strengthen the entire coastal ecosystem’s resilience to current and future threats.

The successes of the Gökova model
Within Gökova Bay’s six No-Fishing-Zones (NFZs), together covering 27 square kilometres, AKD coordinates daily community-led patrols to reduce the threat of destructive and illegal fishing practices, which not only deplete fish numbers and degrade underwater habitats, but also present a risk to turtles and other threatened marine fauna through bycatch and injury. Alongside this, AKD conducts research to assess ecosystem health and collaborates with local fishing cooperatives to monitor fish stocks, record fish catches and improve revenue. Thanks to this collaborative effort, fish stocks are growing, thereby improving small-scale fisher income and increasing availability of prey for monk seals and other predatory marine species.

 “This is a great success for Turkey, while the world is struggling with the Covid-19 virus and protection of the natural world is something that everybody is talking about. I would like to thank the government institutions bravely standing behind this radical decision for nature. Now we can talk about marine ecosystem connectivity in Turkey where we have protected seascapes that are not too far from each other,” said Zafer Kizilkaya, President of AKD. “It is still too early to celebrate though. Now we need to protect and monitor these areas seriously. Once ecological improvements start, large-scale ecosystem recovery will speed up, thanks to the connectivity. Then we can extend protection with efficient management strategies. There is still a long way to go to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030. We need to focus on saving biodiversity now”.

photo of The new AKD office in Gocek
The new AKD office in Gocek

AKD has already begun expanding its ongoing conservation activities across this vast new protected area. It has ramped up its team and offices to manage these new areas and already set up 2 offices in Gocek and Kaş with an area manager and rangers. Two more boats and four rangers in Bozburun and Hisaronu Bays are also going to be deployed. The team and means at sea will grow in the near future if sufficient funding can be secured

This work is supported by the Endangered Landscapes Programme which is managed by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and funded by Arcadia – a charitable trust of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing.