Turkish delight: restoring Mediterranean marine life

May 19, 2017

Zafer Kizilkaya has been awarded the 2017 Whitley Gold Award for his continued efforts in creating and monitoring marine protected zones off Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline
Despite its relatively diminutive size, the Mediterranean may well be considered one of the world’s most pivotal bodies of water (its name literally translates as ‘sea in the middle of the world’). Yet marine conservation has not been a high priority for authorities overseeing human activities in this part of the world’s oceans. Alongside the presence of vast quantities of plastic and invasive species – not to mention the humanitarian crises unfolding between the iconic shores – has been the severe ramifications of widespread overfishing. Many once prosperous fishing communities, such as the residents of Gökova Bay in Turkey, found themselves pulling up empty nets, as the marine species they once relied upon for their diet and income continue to plummet to ever lower numbers.

In 2013, Turkish marine researcher, engineer and underwater photographer Zafer Kizilkaya was awarded a Whitley Award in recognition of the work by his organisation, the Mediterranean Conservation Society, in creating six new ‘no fishing zones’ (NFZs) covering Gökova Bay. These new no-take reserves, managed and rigorously protected by the local community, became prosperous breeding grounds and nurseries for many fish species, whose numbers since grew by as much as 800 per cent, spilling over into surrounding waters. Through the funding and publicity from the award, Kizilkaya and his team were subsequently able to expand the size of the NFZs by 25 per cent, creating a total protected area of over 3,000km2.