30 Jul 2018

Irreplaceable: Gediz Delta, Turkey – a bridge over troubled waters

A proposed mega-bridge spanning the Izmir Bay threatens to obliterate crucial waterbird breeding grounds, which are also a haven for rare seals and sea turtles. And that’s not the only thing threatening this unique site. Read about the actions taken so far to secure this habitat in danger.

Gediz delta is a refuge for the Red-breasted Goose, which is Vulnerable to extinction © Goean / Shutterstock
Gediz delta is a refuge for the Red-breasted Goose, which is Vulnerable to extinction © Goean / Shutterstock
By Jessica Law

Update: the mega-bridge has been cancelled following a court case opened with the help of Doğa (BirdLife in Turkey).

Magical things happen when opposites meet. Where the land joins the sea, where freshwater flows into saltwater, unique habitats are never far away. And Gediz Delta in Turkey is no exception. Dotted with grass-tufted islands and remarkable salt-frosted lagoons, this wetland supports a wealth of waterbirds. The Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis (Vulnerable) finds refuge here, as does the Dalmatian Pelican Pelenacus crispus (Near Threatened), for whom the delta acts as a key breeding site. And it’s not just birds that benefit from this bounty. The Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus (Endangered) and Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta (Vulnerable) both rely on its rich pickings.

Every winter, the delta turns pink with an influx of Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus – regularly housing up to a tenth of their world population. This spectacle is a big draw for one of the Delta’s other regular clientele – tourists. Indeed, the delta is a valuable source of income for local people: saltpans and a fishing co-operative create further livelihoods.

 

The Mediterranean Monk Seal, an Endangered species, makes its home at the Delta © Zaferkizilkaya / Shutterstock

 

The conservation world recognises the Gediz Delta’s significance. Not only is it listed as an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) and a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), but also a Ramsar site – a wetland of international importance. But it is also in danger. The Gediz River is polluted, and the city of Izmir is slowly encroaching. There have been plans for a sewage treatment plant, a seaport, and proposals to dump 7 million m3 of polluted mud within the IBA boundaries. Last year, however, the worst threat was announced: a huge mega-bridge that would connect the southern and northern coasts of the Izmir Bay. Building this bridge would destroy crucial breeding islands and foraging areas across the northern end of the Delta.

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Fortunately, the Delta isn’t without defendants. Doğa (BirdLife in Turkey) have started a legal case against the bridge development. They’re also carrying out a wetland restoration project, funded by the MAVA Foundation, to rejuvenate land that has been degraded. Losing this strategic habitat could tip the balance for a host of Globally Threatened species, meaning the difference between recovery and extinction.