Meet the Sci­en­tist

In 2017, Zafer Kizilkaya won the Whit­ley Gold Award for his com­mu­nityled con­ser­va­tion project, which has cre­ated six ‘No Fish­ing Zones’ and pro­tected 3,000km² of Turk­ish ma­rine habi­tat.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

Ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist Zafer Kizilkaya on pro­tect­ing Turkey’s coastal ecosys­tems

Sav­ing a stranded Mediter­ranean monk seal pup marked the be­gin­ning of Zafer Kizilkaya’s ma­rine con­ser­va­tion jour­ney. He spent months re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the Crit­i­cally En­dan­gered pin­niped in his na­tive Turkey, be­fore re­leas­ing it back into Gökova Bay. When the seal was spot­ted play­ing near a town 14 days later, he in­ves­ti­gated.

“The sea looked pris­tine on the sur­face, but be­low it was a dev­as­tated ma­rine site,” says Kizilkaya. “I couldn’t be­lieve my eyes.” Fol­low­ing an as­sess­ment, the ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist dis­cov­ered that Gökova Bay had no ma­rine al­gae, lots of in­va­sive species and a lack of bio­di­ver­sity.

This wasn’t just bad news for its ma­rine life, but also for the hun­dreds of fish­er­men and women try­ing to earn their liveli­hood in these wa­ters – when fish stocks col­lapsed to 4g per square kilo­me­tre in 2008, they lost a huge pro­por­tion of their in­come. Kizilkaya de­cided to do some­thing about it and built Turkey’s first com­mu­nity-man­aged ma­rine pro­tected area, with the aim of con­serv­ing wildlife and sup­port­ing sus­tain­able fish­ing.

His big­gest chal­lenge was to con­vince lo­cal peo­ple to sac­ri­fice some of their fish­ing sites to pro­tect sen­si­tive spawn­ing grounds, which would al­low fish stocks to in­crease. In 2010, he es­tab­lished six No Fish­ing Zones (NFZs) in Gökova Bay, but they needed to be en­forced some­how.

A Ma­rine Ranger Ser­vice Sys­tem was cre­ated to guard these pre­cious ar­eas. “For­mer fish­er­men were re­cruited to cap­ture ev­i­dence of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity, be­fore re­port­ing it to the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties,” ex­plains Kizilkaya. “Af­ter five years, there were six to seven times more fish in Gökova Bay be­cause the overf low from NFZs in­creased fish stocks else­where.”

Work­ing with the Coast Guard Com­mand and Min­istry of Food, Agri­cul­ture and Live­stock of­fi­cials, the rangers es­tab­lished a strong pres­ence in this Spe­cial En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Area. In 2013, Gökova Bay Ma­rine Ranger Project won a Whit­ley Award – a ‘Green Os­car’ that re­in­forced the pub­lic’s trust in Kizilkya’s con­ser­va­tion bat­tle. Due to its con­tin­ued suc­cess, this was fol­lowed by a Whit­ley Gold Award in 2017 and, most re­cently, an En­dan­gered Land­scapes Pro­gramme grant in Oc­to­ber 2018. “To­day, the fish stock in this bay is 100g to 220g per square kilo­me­tre,” says Kizilkaya. These re­plen­ished wa­ters have ben­e­fited Red Listed species, such as the sand­bar shark, and in­creased the num­ber of grouper, which keep in­va­sive species in check. “My goal is to repli­cate this model across Turkey,” he says. “And see the num­ber of NFZs in the whole of the Mediter­ranean in­crease.” Jo Price

FIND OUT MORE

Read about the Gökova Bay Ma­rine Ranger Project: ak­d­enizko­ruma.org.tr/en and the Whit­ley Fund for Na­ture: whit­leyaward.org

The sea looked pris­tine, but be­low it was a dev­as­tated ma­rine site.

Re­searchers study­ing an al­gae ecosys­tem in the wa­ters of Turkey. Be­low: a Mediter­ranean monk seal.

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