Environmental hero’s mission to help save the most above-fished sea in the globe

Editor’s Note: Contact to Earth is a CNN editorial sequence fully commited to reporting on the environmental worries facing our world, alongside one another with the methods. Rolex’s Perpetual Planet initiative has partnered with CNN to travel consciousness and education and learning all over crucial sustainability difficulties and to inspire positive motion.


Popular for its crystal blue hues, sweeping beach locations and unspoilt coves, the “Turquoise Coast” is one of Turkey’s natural wonders. Stretching much more than 600 miles together the Mediterranean, the country’s southwest shore has very long been heralded for its natural beauty, attracting holidaymakers from about the environment.

But although the sparkling waters search inviting, life beneath the area is much less so. In modern decades, the area has grow to be seriously character-depleted due to overfishing, illegal fishing, tourism advancement and local weather transform. Significant habitat for loggerhead turtles and endangered Mediterranean monk seals has been wrecked, breeding grounds for sandbar sharks threatened, and indigenous fish populations decimated.

An work to revive the place is underway, many thanks in aspect to Zafer Kizilkaya, president and founder of Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (the Mediterranean Conservation Modern society). He is credited with correctly lobbying the Turkish governing administration to develop a network of maritime secured parts (MPA) spanning much more than 300 miles alongside the Mediterranean coast.

Now, Kizilkaya was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to secure the ocean. The once-a-year award is offered to 6 grassroots environmental leaders, every working in a unique continent.

Kizilkaya’s mission commenced in 2007, subsequent a diving expedition in Gökova Bay, a 62-mile-lengthy gulf in the centre of the Turquoise Coastline. He had returned to his indigenous Turkey after several years functioning as a maritime researcher and underwater photographer in Indonesia and was stunned by the marine degradation. This was intended to be a person of the most biodiverse pieces of the Turkish coastline, but it was barren, he tells CNN.

“It was like a nuclear war had occurred underwater: there was no life, rocks were bare, there was no macroalgae,” he suggests.

Substantially of the Turquoise Coast and the Mediterranean has expert a comparable drop. According to the UN’s Food items and Agriculture Corporation, the Mediterranean is the world’s most overfished sea, teeming with industrial-scale fishing fleets these types of as purse seiners and trawlers.

Wiping out maritime existence has ruined the livelihoods of area fishers.

Local fishing communities are benefiting from the marine protected area as fish stocks bounce back.

“Small scale fishing communities were in a stress,” suggests Kizilkaya. Recognizing the extent of the challenge, he resolved that this was the second to act, and established about seeking to encourage community fishers and other stakeholders that no-choose zones and safeguarded parts could aid to reverse these tendencies.

Acquiring fishers on aspect was the major obstacle, he admits, but mainly because of the dire circumstance some started to hear. In 2012, Kizilkaya set up Turkey’s very first local community-managed MPA in Gökova Bay.

But for the secured location to do the job no-fishing zones have to be effectively enforced, describes Kizilkaya. He properly trained neighborhood fishers as maritime rangers who could observe the waters for illegal fishing and deliver alerts to the Turkish Coast Guard. Even though they did not have powers of arrest, locals had been geared up with bodycams that could deliver admissible proof for courtroom situations.

As the Mediterranean has warmed owing to climate modify, invasive tropical fish such as lionfish have swum in via the Suez Canal. They pose a threat to the ecosystem, as they prey on indigenous species, overgraze vegetation and have number of predators themselves.

To tackle this Kizilkaya took a novel solution, reaching out to some of Turkey’s famous cooks and location them the problem of making mouth watering recipes with invasive fish as the vital component. He promoted the recipes, encouraging dining establishments across Turkey to get started serving dishes this kind of as lionfish ceviche and lionfish and chips.

“We became a fishmonger,” suggests Kizilkaya, including that the AKD proceeds to sell “tasty, cheap” lionfish caught by regional fishers to eating places.

Invasive lionfish have spread across Turkey's coastal rocky habitats.

Many thanks to his function, Gökova Bay’s maritime ecosystem has created a great comeback. According to ocean conservation charity Blue Maritime Foundation, the quantity of fish for each sq. meter has elevated tenfold considering the fact that the implementation of no just take zones in 2012 and incomes for regional fishers have greater 400%.

“Gökova Bay became a wonderful illustration for conservation,” says Kizilkaya, adding that his good results helped him persuade the Turkish governing administration to grow the MPA community southeastward along 310 miles of Turkish shoreline.

Kizilkaya hopes that the Goldman Environmental Prize will incorporate momentum to his mission. He’d like to see MPAs proven throughout Turkey and the total Mediterranean, and he hopes his get the job done has opened people’s eyes to the crisis underwater and what we can do to solve it.

“The oceans are so neglected because nobody’s putting their head underneath the drinking water,” he states. “This program is effective for the reward of fish, sharks, monk seals and human beings. If this is doable below, why not other sites?”

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