Concern is growing as rumours spread about projects for hydroelectric projects in two of the regions most beautiful and biodiverse areas.
If the projects go ahead they will also destroy more than 20 villages and some of Turkey’s most important agricultural areas.
Saklıkent means hidden city in Turkish but for more than half a million tourists, who seek out its emerald, icy waters, and relaxed friendly restaurants every summer, the Saklıkent Gorge, 50 Kilometres from Fethiye is synonymous with a holiday to the Turquoise Coast of southwest Turkey and not very secret.
The Kızıldere River on the other hand, starts in the mountains behind Göcek, flows through quiet, wooded valleys before entering the sea at Yanıklar, between Fethiye and Göcek.
It is a well-kept secret and does not have the same high profile amongst tourists although it is popular with locals who love to relax by the river in the summer and enjoy a picnic.
Nevertheless it is an important local river and surrounded by an area of extraordinary biodiversity, birds, animals, rare flowers, trees such as Sığla (liquid amber), massive old plane trees and red pine, crucial in the production pine honey, not to mention many villages for whom can be said that this area is also beyond money.
But now it seems that the water rushing from Saklıkent into the Eşen River and the crystal torrents that cascade through wooded valleys of the Kızildere (Red) River out of Karacaören, have caught the eye of a company with a different idea: hydro-electric energy.
But it is not just the tourists, tour companies and local businessmen running restaurants who will suffer.
The valley of the Eşen River, now subject to up to 9 separate applications for hydroelectric stations, offers farmers a rich alluvial environment in which grow tomatoes and flowers, much of which are produced for export.
“All the families living here would lose their homes and work. What we have at the moment earns more than a million Euros annually for the local economy. It isn’t just about tourism. Agriculture and peoples lives will be destroyed with more than 20 villages affected and hundreds of tomato greenhouses and farms.” Says local businessman and restaurateur, Adem Ulutaş.
Becoming more agitated by the minute he says, “If they get a licence and go ahead with the project it will destroy everything. No one is getting information about what’s going on – not even the local mayors and environmental ministry officials. I don’t think they want us to know what is going on.”
Information about what is going on is very thin on the ground although some news has already filtered through.
A lawyer representing the villagers in Karacaören has already discovered that the area has had its protected status removed even though the 1.7 mega watt the river is expected to produce is less than what would have been produced by the unsuccessful Yuvarlakçay project.
Driving through the lush green area around Saklıkent it is already obvious that the gossip and whispers about the project has negatively impacted on local businesses. It is difficult to be positive about investing money in a small business or think in the medium or long term when there is a chance that the area will be flooded.
At 18 kilometres long and up to 300 metres deep Saklıkent gorge is a geological phenomenon and of great interest to both geologists and speleologists, who visit from all over the world, as well as the thousands of tourists.
Okyay Kirli, head of Fethiye’s branch of TEMA (Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, For Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats) sums up the general feelings of local residents and environmentalists, “This all started with the pollution of our rivers and pastures from fish farms, then damage to our forests and now the water itself is at risk.”
He continued, “The environmental destruction from these projects will have an enormous impact on irreplaceable habitats. They are not worth the terrible environmental and social impact. It seems that the big companies and the government are just looking to benefit for themselves with no concern for people or nature. It is about politics, money and power. When we win the battle against these companies it will be a victory for the people and nature.”
Communities have gained a lot of experience in dealing with this kind of issue. Villagers and protestors at Yuvarlak Çay near Dalyan and Şenöz in Rize, Turkey’s Black Sea area have won a series of high profile court cases but are still guarding the areas just in case the situation changes.
It looks as if once again, those who love nature and the environment will once again have a fight on their hands to protect the rivers.
Jane Tuna Akatay