In the heat of late July, at the height of the tourist season, a group of experts visited Fethiye and Patara to see what was happening to the regions’ precious sea turtle nesting beaches.

What they saw and later wrote about in their report has now been made public for the first time.

Two important conclusions

Permanent cabanas inside nesting-zone: note the wooden posts where the information signs used to be and the caged nest in the foreground
Permanent cabanas inside nesting-zone: note the wooden posts where the information signs used to be and the caged nest in the foreground

The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats has adopted two recommendations, urging Turkey to prevent habitat destruction and ensure improved levels of management for Çalış beach to Karataş in Fethiye and Patara. Both of these are Specially Protected Areas (SPAs).

The current pressures on these fragile habitats have resulted in the Convention’s call for a construction ban on the sea turtle nesting beaches of the SPAs.

 Turtle nesting among sunbeams that remain on the beach despite the rules. ©2012-K.-Olgun-E.-Bozkurt

Turtle nesting among sunbeds that remain on the beach despite the rules. ©2012-K.-Olgun-E.-Bozkurt

Taking care of our nesting beaches

Patara and Fethiye’s beaches are among the most important loggerhead (Caretta caretta) nesting sites in Turkey. In July 2015, the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention visited Fethiye and Patara for an on-the-spot appraisal to assess the status of the habitats and document conservation problems.

New resort's wooden walkways inside the nesting zone: the turtle had to stop and lay its eggs here.
New resort’s wooden walkways inside the nesting zone: the turtle had to stop and lay its eggs here.

As a result, at its annual meeting during 1-4 December 2015, the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention adopted two Recommendations aiming to halt and reverse the habitat degradation caused by the unsustainable coastal development and lack of management of the protected areas.

In the case of Fethiye, the Convention expressed its extreme concern about severe habitat degradation and human impact on the protected sea turtle beaches. The Recommendation sets down several conservation measures and calls for a ban on beachside building, road and shipyard construction, and the removal of fixed structures from the sea turtle nesting zones.

Raising awareness

 Light pollution on nesting-beaches leads hatchlings-to their deaths

Light pollution on nesting-beaches leads hatchlings-to their deaths
Light shines on caged nest -hatchlings will crawl to light instead of sea - and to their deaths
Light shines on caged nest -hatchlings will crawl to light instead of sea – and to their deaths

Measures to raise awareness, reduce light pollution, regulate maritime traffic and beach furniture, halt sand extraction, and prevent vehicle access to the nesting beaches, are also included.

These recommendations highlight the need for improvement of the management of the protected area and consistent and regular enforcement of regulations, the lack of which are root causes of the current status of the habitat.

Patara is at risk too - from quad bikes and other issues with lack of enforcement.
Patara is at risk too – from quad bikes and other issues with lack of enforcement.
Hatchlings are trapped in ruts of vehicles driving on nesting beach
Hatchlings are trapped in ruts of vehicles driving on nesting beach

Enforcing regulations

Unsustainable and uncontrolled coastal development has continued for too long and in complete disregard of the protected status of Fethiye’s biodiversity”

said Lily Venizelos, President of MEDASSET, who brought the subject to the attention of the Convention in 2009.

New resorts are building cabanas and walkways inside the nesting zone.
New resorts are building cabanas and walkways inside the nesting zone.

The NGO complained about the non-implementation of four existing recommendations of the Bern Convention, and the escalating destruction of the SPA, which is a threat to sea turtle populations.

Lack of management

It’s not just Fethiye. In the case of Patara, progressive degradation of the site’s protection, lack of management and enforcement of relevant regulations, led to the Convention’s recommendation of a detailed set of conservation measures. These include: a construction ban on and behind the nesting beach, the prevention of vehicle access; awareness raising and education; regulation of beach furniture, fishing and light pollution. Strengthening of management and guarding of the SPA are major measures that the Convention urges the authorities to take.

MEDASSET_Map of large scale development in Patara SPA

Words are not enough to describe Patara’s exceptional ecological and heritage value; it is an outstanding Mediterranean site of international importance”

said Venizelos, welcoming the adoption of the Recommendation. Patara remains relatively pristine thanks to efforts since 1988 to prevent destructive development plans. MEDASSET’s complaint in 2012 was prompted by a new large-scale summerhouse development that is progressing within the SPA’s archaeological area and which lies about 1.5 km from Patara’s 12 km long beach and huge dunes.

Words are not enough
Words are not enough

Without reinforced management and conservation measures, the new development will seriously degrade the habitat and threaten sea turtle nesting in Patara,” noted Venizelos.

Nesting hotspot damaged by uncontrolled human use
Nesting hotspot damaged by uncontrolled human use

Where there’s a will…

Turkish environmental authorities have demonstrated in the past that, with the necessary political will, Turkey’s important sea turtle beaches can be sufficiently protected and destructive development reversed, as has been the case with Dalyan and Akyatan beaches, which are internationally acknowledged examples of best practice.

We call upon the responsible authorities to take urgent action to implement the Recommendations before the start of the 2016 tourism season, which coincides with the sea turtle nesting season”,

concluded Venizelos.

More buildings inside the nesting zone
More buildings inside the nesting zone

MEDASSET notes that implementation of the Recommendations will ensure long-term protection of sea turtle populations and preservation of important Mediterranean natural habitats, as well as sustainable and high quality tourism development, to the benefit of local communities in Fethiye and Patara.

The last Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling of the season
The last Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling of the season

For more information visit MEDASSET and Bern Convention

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