The gulf was used as an open sewer system from the 1960s until 2000, when the city of Izmir initiated the Big Gulf Project to clean it up. Those efforts are paying off, according to observations collected by the Marine Sciences and Technology Institute of Turkey’s Dokuz Eylül University (DEU) in a newly released report, according to the Turkish paper Hürriyet Daily News.
Water quality improving rapidly
Underwater photos from five different locations around the gulf provide the most visually striking evidence that life is returning to the area.
Various species of seahorses, starfish, shrimps, anemones, fish, algae, and plant life are bringing color back to the gulf as levels of dissolved oxygen rise in the water.
“We have been monitoring the biological situation of the İzmir Gulf since 1996. We take samples in all four seasons. We also measure the heavy metal rate in the sea once a year,” DEU Marine Sciences and Technology Institute project coordinator Professor Filiz Küçüksezgin told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Environmental and economic benefits
The ultimate goal of the Big Gulf Project is to make the gulf clean enough to swim in, according to Ahmet Alpaslan, the general manager of Izmir’s water and sewage system.
The city will establish a special channel north of the gulf to prevent shoaling and increase water circulation there, says Alpaslan.
The project will undoubtedly take several more years, but when the gulf is ready for swimmers, the marine life that is returning to the area will make it a rewarding destination for snorkelers and divers.
The third most populous city in Turkey, Izmir is very near the ancient city of Ephesus, and already attracts many tourists each year.
Wildlife conservation not usually a priority in Turkey
The Big Gulf Project was made possible thanks to hefty investments by the Izmir municipality.
Sadly, many authorities in Turkey aren’t so willing to invest in protecting their local environment. Environmental degradation from power plants, mines, chemical plants, trash dumps, and other industrial projects usually goes unmonitored and unaddressed.
Polluting Paradise, for example, a recent documentary by Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin, showed the tragic and disgusting effects of a massive landfill on the lives of villagers in Turkey’s lush Black Sea region.
In eastern Turkey, the unusually diverse ecosystem of the Aras River basin — a main stop for millions of bird migrating between Africa and Eurasia — is threatened by a hydroelectric dam backed by the Turkish central government.
The Izmir Gulf clean-up is a rare example of conservation done right in Turkey. Hopefully more municipalities will follow Izmir’s example in protecting their natural riches.
Read more about nature conservation in Turkey:
Istanbul’s Natural Oases: The Atatürk Arboretum and Belgrade Forest
Hydroelectric Dam Threatens “Ecological Massacre” in Turkey
Polluting Paradise Documentary Follows Turkish Village’s Battle Against Invading Garbage
In Remotest Anatolia, Lone NGO Speaks Up On Nature’s Behalf
Images via Hürriyet Daily News