By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay
Turkey: the splendor of the Hagia Sophia, the ruins of Ephesus, and the bizarre caves of the Cappadocia. For foreign travelers, Turkey is a nation of cultural, religious, and historic wonders: a place where cultures have met, clashed, and co-created. However, Turkey has another wealth that is far less known: biodiversity. Of the globe’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, Turkey is almost entirely covered by three: the Caucasus, the Irano-Anatolian, and the Mediterranean. Despite its wild wealth, conservation is not a priority in Turkey and recent papers in Science and Biological Conservation warn that the current development plans in the country, which rarely take the environment into account, are imperiling its species and ecosystems.
“The current ‘developmentalist obsession,’ particularly regarding water use, threatens to eliminate much of what remains, while forcing large-scale migration from rural areas to the cities. According to current plans, Turkey’s rivers and streams will be dammed with almost 4,000 dams, diversions, and hydroelectric power plants for power, irrigation, and drinking water by 2023,” the authors write, adding that other threats include urbanization, wetland-draining, and poaching.
Turkey is particularly rich in plants: with over 9,000 recorded to date, a third of them are found only in Turkey. Amphibians and reptiles are also highly diverse with 150 species to date. And Turkey, even now, still retains some startling big mammals including the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), brown bear (Ursus arctos), gray wolf (Canis lupus), caracal (Caracal caracal), and Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx). But it has also lost nearly as many as it has retained, including cheetahs, lions, tigers, and aurochs.Turkey is also a hugely important bird country with over 500 species identified so far.”Turkey lies at the intersection of globally important bird migration flyways. It has the highest number of breeding bird species in the Europe, but also the highest number of threatened bird species in Europe,” co-author Cagan Sekercioglu, a Turkish ornithologist and ecologist, with Stanford, told mongabay.com. “Few people realize that the famous Rift Valley bird migration over Israel and into Africa, and the Rift Valley itself, begin in Turkey. Bird species of traditional farms are declining fastest in Europe but can still be found in large numbers in the bioculturally diverse rural communities of Turkey, particularly in the east. Among others, Turkey hosts globally important breeding populations of threatened white-headed ducks, Egyptian vultures, sakers, great bustards, and imperial eagles, and is a key stopover site for declining migratory bird species like sociable plovers.”But all of Turkey’s remaining species are facing threats. In 2012 the Yale Environmental Performance Index ranked Turkey in the bottom 8 percent for its biodiversity and habitat conservation efforts, putting Turkey in the same category as some of the world’s most troubled and impoverished countries, such as Haiti, Libya, Eritrea, and Iraq. But scientists warn that recent policy efforts could push Turkey, which is working to become an economic powerhouse, even lower.
“Turkey’s environmental laws and conservation efforts are eroding, not improving. This has precipitated a conservation crisis that has accelerated over the past decade. This crisis has been exacerbated by legislative developments that may leave Turkey with a nature conservation legal framework that is weakened and severely out of line with globally accepted principles,” scientists wrote recently in separate letter in Science.Loose laws, poor enforcement, and little public oversight has created a situation whereby the Turkish government is capable of steamrolling any environmental concerns.”The government, practically unopposed, easily modifies existing laws and passes new ones to remove any environmental obstacles to the construction of dams, mines, factories, roads, bridges, housing projects, and tourism developments. Such construction increasingly occurs in ‘protected’ areas, often at the expense of local people,” the authors write.