Friday, May 29, 2009

National Geographic - Road Becomes Turkey's First Island Sanctuary for Birds

After years of lobbying, planning, and months of hard work, conservationists have built the first island ever created in Turkey for wildlife.

"It may be the first artificial island in the country," said Cagan H. Sekercioglu in an email. "We have taken conservation science to the next stage and have created critical habitat for thousands of birds. It is very rewarding to be doing something concrete after my depressing papers estimating bird extinctions.

"This is an excellent example of hands-on conservation resulting from close collaboration of local villagers, conservation scientists, decision-makers and local government."

Sekercioglu is a senior research scientist at Stanford University's Center for Conservation Biology. He has received funding from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research anbd Exploration to study forest birds in Costa Rica, a project unrelated to the island in Turkey.

The artificial island was made from a dirt road which bisected Lake Kuyucuk in the Kars province of eastern Turkey. Home to at least half the 465 species of birds found in Turkey and a critical stopover for thousands of birds that migrate annually between eastern Europe and Africa, Lake Kuyucuk was recently named by the United Nations as a wetlands of international importance.

The manmade island in the center of the lake becomes a safe place for birds to roost and breed. It also restores the natural water regime of the lake by connecting the southern and northern sections formerly bisected by the old Kars-Akyaka road.

Local authorities expect that the new 200-yard-long island will increase nature tourism in the region.

The artificial island was finished and announced during the Eleventh Turkish Birding Conference, which was hosted by Kars Kafkas University and the KuzeyDoğa Society in Eastern Turkey ast week.

"The island was the big surprise of the conference and exhilirated Turkey's birdwatchers," according to a media statement sent by Sekercioglu.

The island was converted from the old road across the lake after local authorities, conservationists and surrounding communities agreed last year on the conservation zones and the Ramsar boundaries of Lake Kuyucuk. Ramsar is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework under UN auspices for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their associated resources.

It was agreed at that time to remove the road from the lake as soon as possible. The KuzeyDoğa Society, a bird research and conservation organization led by Sekercioglu, proposed that the dirt road be converted into an island as an easy and affordable way to provide a haven for breeding birds.

Fifty yards road were removed from both ends of the dirt and the excavated soil was added to the southern bank of the remaining 200-yard road segment to expand the width of the island.
Ninety-three trees of local species such as birch and willow, suited to the local steppe wetland ecosystem, were planted along the northern side of the island.

The soil addition on the south bank created a more gradual slope (half as steep) into the lake. This new, shallow bank will enable more species of birds to use and breed on the island, the news statement said.

"The entirety of the island is now inaccessible to people, cattle, sheep, horses, foxes, wolves, dogs and cats and therefore any birds nesting or feeding there will be free of these human and animal disturbances common elsewhere around the lake."

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