Last weekend saw the reunion of two elders of the environmental movement. Dr. David Bellamy and June Haimoff, incredibly energetic eco-warriors, came together to commemorate the ‘Battle for Dalyan’ and reignite awareness for sea turtles and Iztuzu Beach, Dalyan in southwest Turkey.
Their names are synonymous with the struggle for environmental protection of the area nearly 20 years ago: David Bellamy and June Haimoff. Their arrival at a specially arranged gala night in Dalyan’s Ley Ley Restaurant revealed that at 77 and 87 respectively, they are still going strong and that age has not diminished their fiery enthusiasm and determined passion for drawing the world’s attention to the plight of endangered Loggerhead Turtles and the beach on which these remarkable creatures lay their eggs.
The evening was organised by a group of committed local residents to raise money for The June Haimoff Sea Turtle Foundation in association with Professor Yakup Kaska’s rehabilitation project with Pamukkale University. It proved to be a successful evening, raising 6,000TL towards the 50,000TL needed to formally set up the foundation. Kaska confirms that they must collect another 20,000TL to reach their goal and government requirements.
The gala was attended by the Muğla Governor’s Köycegiz representative Halil Ibrahim Çomaktekin and Dalyan Municipality committee member Ömer Irmak, who with a generous contribution from the mayor on behalf of the town bought a painting of Iztuzu beach donated to the foundation by local artist Penny Blackmore. He intends to have the painting exhibited in Dalyan town hall.
Hürriyet Daily News was able to catch up with Dr. David Bellamy over breakfast the following morning on the rain soaked Iztuzu Beach, at the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
“The importance of common sense over profit.” David Bellamy has always refused to “keep his nose clean.”
Dr. David Bellamy is one of a kind: an expert botanist, author, broadcaster and environmental campaigner. For many years he enthused over fungi, lichens and mosses in front of millions on British TV, infecting his viewers with his love of nature. His eccentricity coupled with an engaging dynamism has never failed to draw attention to minute aspects of nature most of us wouldn’t usually notice to the wholesale destruction of rainforests.
Fortunately for Dalyan and Loggerhead Turtles, Bellamy and June Haimoff met in a Dalyan restaurant in 1987 (he’d heard about June and the sea turtles and come to see for himself – along with the British media) and since then Haimoff has harnessed his energy to great effect resulting in this extraordinary beach being protected for future generations of sea turtles.
For many of the guests on Saturday evening the highlight was meeting with this rangy man, more than 2 metres tall, with a famously bushy, silver beard and a charismatic personality to match. It becomes apparent that many people think the 77 year old British botanist, environmentalist and university professor, has been knighted; calling him ‘sir’ but he is quick to point out he isn’t mainly because he “doesn’t keep his nose clean.”
This Bellamy explains, is due to his infamous habit of drawing attention to what he sees as uncomfortable environmental truths. He is a goliath amongst campaigners, focusing on the global destruction of natural resources, which he believes many would prefer him to keep quiet about. He was brought up in a “very big” [Baptist] household where you told the truth. But I found out as I moved round the world that I wasn’t supposed to tell the truth [about what he saw].”
[inset side=right]“The problem is many people don’t want to see the answers because they make lots of money doing the wrong thing.” Dr. David Bellamy[/inset]This approach hasn’t always made him popular with the authorities. For example, he hasn’t worked on British TV since 1996 after condemning the environmental impact of wind turbines whilst on a live children’s television programme. He also seems to be a rather paradoxical character when it comes to global warming – preferring to see “habitat destruction” as the main culprit in the climate change debate; and often a highly vocal dissenting voice on other controversial or high profile ecological topics. His alternative views on climate change have resulted in him being called ‘the bearded bungler’ by George Monbiot of the Guardian Newspaper.
Whatever his views and those of others, he has not been deterred from supporting the causes he considers important. Having “travelled around the world many times,” he says he has seen the problems but “has also seen the answers.” He continues, “The problem is many people don’t want to see the answers because they make lots of money doing the wrong thing.”
This year is the U.N.’s Year of Biodiversity. Commenting on this Bellamy reflects that, “fifteen years ago I would have been part of that, had I been asked; but I never was.” He has become increasingly sceptical about the buzzwords used nowadays and the huge amounts of money involved. Preferring to plant trees and flowers, he has been responsible for planting more than 200,000 trees in schools around Britain and has travelled around the world many times, encouraging others to do likewise and supporting campaign groups for particular environmental causes.
“We should be talking about ‘Natural History,’” Bellamy says when asked about biodiversity. “But why are we destroying it in the first place?” The subject moves onto the decimation of Loggerhead Turtles around the world in general but specifically in Dalyan and he reminds us that the sea turtle has been around for 95 million years – and is still here. “So we have to look at what’s killing them now.”
This is where his long friendship with June Haimoff became such an inspirational force for change. “June and I have been friends for many years and we pooled and our energy and resources to stop the tourist development of Dalyan. She is a very remarkable woman. I kneel down before here.” And on Saturday night in front of more than a hundred guests, officials and the press, that is what he actually did.
While his large hands characteristically sweep the air around him: he is in full flow once again. “If this area had been covered with concrete and large hotels with lights had been built, the area would have been destroyed and the hatchling sea turtles would have died. Come on! It’s not exactly rocket science, is it?”
Warming to the subject he continued. “The people of Dalyan said ‘we are not going to lose the sea turtles’ and now we have this wonderful place [he is referring to the rehabilitation centre run by Yakup Kaska and his team] where people can see what happens when sea turtles get injured by propellers from any of the more than 800 boats around here. If the boats had to have guards on the propellers there probably wouldn’t be so many injuries to see and this centre would be redundant!”
He concludes, “As long as people behave themselves the main ‘footprint’ here will that of the turtles – not humans. The foundation must make sure that there is never concrete here and the lives of the sea turtles can continue undisturbed.”
The previous day he visited Yuvarlakçay [a local river being dammed for hydroelectricity that recently received a stay of execution from the courts] and is concerned that the Turkish government is damming so many of its rivers that it will irrevocably change natural habitats with devastating effect on the country’s (and it’s neighbours) natural environment and ultimately its population.
Bellamy is cynical about involvement by global businesses in the environmental lobby. “They must use common sense rather than profit as their goal. Seriously, what can people do with all that money they earn?” He sees a lot of the big corporations action as no more than ‘greenwash’; just another way to get to “number one.”
“And” he emphasizes, with a large grin, “they are actually playing with our money for this.” His ideas come thick and fast… mostly to do with recycling and not living in such a wasteful world. He advice is for us to put more clothes on in winter.
“We are risking losing all those wonderful places that make money for the local people and Turkey is one of the few countries in the whole world that could in fact be totally self sustaining.”
The question he wants to leave in everyone’s minds is, “How is it that we have these very rich nations who can speak to each other at any moment down the phone but can’t seem to get together to sort these issues out? We have got a real problem here.” But he finishes on a more positive note. “We have to look at what can and is being done and remember it’s not all bad news.”
As if handing over the baton in the interminable race against habitat and species destruction he takes off his tee shirt (decorated with sea turtles of course) and hands it to Meryem Tekin, a young, aspiring marine biologist – almost as a silent act of encouragement to carry on the good work. She says it is something she will always treasure.