Marmara sea southern coasts survey completed

Original article published in Yeşiliz magazine by TEMA Foundation in 2008 in Turkish

Marmara Sea is an interesting marine area in the world surrounded by the lands of one country. It is an interior sea with its unique marine and coastal biodiversity, long sandy beaches and dunes, coastal deltas and rocky coasts & cliffs and still undiscovered values. 

Marmara Sea is also under a huge human use pressure. The most industrialized region of Turkey; İstanbul, İzmit, Yalova, Gemlik, Mudanya, Bandırma, Erdek, Karabiga, Lapseki, Tekirdağ and Silivri. These settlements are among the most crowded places in Türkiye. İzmit Bay hosts approximately 40 ports and piers, a big port area where the highest maritime traffic and cargo handling happens in the country. The large-size vessels including oil tankers passing from Çanakkale and İstanbul Straits commuting between Blacks Sea and Mediterannean (and therefore with the rest of the world) -approx. 50.000 ships/year- makes this inner sea more “crowded” and “polluted”. In spite of such immense human activities and an industrial pressure, one may think that if it’s still possible to talk about any wild life, biodiversity and coastal habitats worth to be protected in the Marmara Sea? It may sound surprising for you, but, yes, it is…

Now let us check the other side of the coin… During coastal habitat survey that includes the southern coasts of Marmara, lasting for 4 days including interviews with artisanal fishermen, we have clearly seen and documented wild side of the Marmara Sea in its remote parts in June 2008. SAD-AFAG has surveyed the majority of coastline between Şahmelek (west of Karabiga) on the west and Trilye (west of Mudanya) on the east, coastal villages, untouched bays, rocky shores and sandy beaches and documented these by video and photography. Hundreds of shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii including youngs, which are also an endangered marine bird species, have been observed. Beside; some raptor species, ravens and passerines have been observed. The small scale (coastal) fishermen have repeatedly stated that they have seen different dolphin species in groups of 10 to 20 whenever they go for fishing. The photographs belonging to two different monk seal observations had been reached us in December 2007 and January 2008 taken recently in Armutlu Peninsula and near İstanbul respectively. Actually these image supported and confirmed seal sightings pushed us to carry out this survey, and the existence of Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus has been reported  by the fishermen interviewed along the southern coasts from Mudanya to Karabiga. Also, there are some Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in Marmara’s south coasts which are given in “Key Biodiversity Areas of Türkiye” published by Doğa Derneği (the Nature Society). Based on this book, there are vast natural areas having rich biodiversity in Kapıdağ Peninsula, Kocaçay Delta and Armutlu Peninsula.

Somehow, some parts of the south Marmara coasts (from Esenköy to Karabiga), Marmara Islands and Mola Islands succeded to remain untouched. And industrialization and urbanization concentrating on certain parts in Marmara Sea. Therefore, we should handle these islands and pristine mainland coasts very meticulously and also produce a marine & coastal zone integrated management plans. The development plans should not envisage to give damage to the untouched habitats, natural beauties, unique landscape and regional biological diversity.

Meanwhile, management plans should also certainly include fishery issues. Ironically, (as we knew the truth before) with no exception all the fishermen we interviewed reported that although trawling is fully prohibited in Marmara Sea, trawlers have been fishing illegally for many years!..  Moreover, some fishermen admitted that they have been practicing trawling illegaly themselves here in this sea!.. The coasts of Marmara Sea have been densely populated with the fishermen. At the end of the study, based on our interview results, the most underlined problem stated by the fishermen is the damage that dolphins make to their nets. The second ranked problem is reduction of fish stocks caused by trawling practice, though it is illegal trawlers operate to dredge the sea bottom, collect demersal species regardless of type of aquaproduct or their size. Thirdly, they complain about the marine pollution, whose source is based on the factories in Bandırma discharging their wastes without any treatment. Actually, pollution might be the biggest factor for the decrease of the fish stocks according to some local fishermen interviewed.

Marine pollution is clearly observed in the whole study area by us. Many fishermen have stated that as a result of the decrease in the fish stocks, fishery is becoming not feasible from economic point of view. Only bonito, bluefish, grey mullet, horse mackerel and pilchard are the fishes that have economical value. Brown meagre, sea bass and gilthead seabream are rare and the red mullet is very rare as aqua products caught. Lastly, they have been complaining of the red algae bloom seen on Marmara Sea in 2007-2008 season. All the fishermen using purse-seiners, set-nets and small scale purse-seiners have been affected negatively. All the equipment have become “muddy” in a short period of time when red algae bloom at its peak level in Marmara Sea and their fishing gear have been useless due to heavy sticky layer formed on the gears. Some of the fishermen have become unable to fish because of the damage given to the gears by red-algae bloom. Hence, they have got into debt and been squeezed under the bank credits. According to the statetements by the fishermen, if the problem repeats, they will go bankruptcy one by one.  Yet, the case occurred ten years ago lastly so they think that it periodically takes place although they realize that it is not very probable to repeat this natural disaster soon. Nevertheless, the economical concern persists.

In addition to this, fishermen have given some very interesting information. They mention of the live dolphin hunting with the aim of selling to dolphinariums, which has been widely discussed and received reactions in Türkiye nowadays. Fishermen of Bandırma have claimed that recently, at different times, couple of dozens of dolphins of Kapıdağ Peninsula and Mola islands area were trapped alive and taken to the fishermen boat, which will probably be sold to dolphinariums in the country. Of course, these are observations and views suggested by many several fishermen in southern Marmara region.

As a conclusion, Marmara sea and coasts are still alive… And I believe that it is not difficult to conserve the remaining values and convey them to the next generations!

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Source: Kıraç, C.O. 2008. Marmara Denizi ve Kıyıları Hala Yaşıyor. Yeşiliz Dergisi. Sayı 12. Kasım-Aralık 2008, İstanbul.
Kıraç, C.O. 2008. Marmara Sea and Its Coasts Still Alive. Yeşiliz Magazine. No 12. November-December 2008, Istanbul. Translated by Elif Tertemiz / SAD-AFAG Ankara Office

Orta Cape coasts as seen from Kale Cape near Karabiga town, June 2008. The southern coasts of Marmara Sea from Armutlu Peninsula to Çanakkale Strait still hold a small monk seal population. Photo: C.O. Kıraç SAD-AFAG