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.
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.