Waves of privatisation on our coasts: Insights from Turkey

IMG_0847Akgun Ilhan, 7 July 2014, Avgi – Ecotrives, “Turkey is surrounded on three sides by the sea”. This was one of the first statements that we were taught at school. It was presented – in a nationalist fashion – as something to be proud of. With the coastal length of 8333 km (more than 74% of country border) Turkey might be deserving such special emphasis. But what does all this mean for us? Can we enjoy the sea surrounding us, or is it just another thing out of our sights and minds?  We know that the sea is out there but most of us cannot reach it. Only three decades beaches in Turkey were open to public. They were cleaner, free and, above all, close to our houses and apartments. Now the ones in cities such as Istanbul are occupied by either buildings or concrete roads. If you happen to see one free from these facilities, then you would not dare to jump into the toxic sea.

Turkey’s coasts are eroding

From the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, coastal zones in Turkey have suffered from intensive urban development since 1970s. Mass tourism plays a leading role in Antalya and Mugla. In these cities coasts are occupied by aquaparks, golf courses, pensions and beaches for attracting more tourists. However, it is also the increasing urban development that has almost wiped out the coasts in Istanbul and Kocaeli. In these provinces sand dunes are occupied by airports, bridges, water treatment plants, recreational facilities including urban parks. In some others such as Adana and Mersin, intensive agriculture practices (e.g. clearing land for agriculture and building drainage canals) have caused serious consequences on the coasts. Industrial development (e.g. construction of thermal power plants, highways and dockyards) has also erased the coastal zones in Samsun and Trabzon.

Natural and cultural heritage is vanishing

Growing pressure from urbanisation and industrialisation tripled with climate change threatens the coastal ecosystems in Turkey. Coastal and marine ecosystems are contaminated by untreated wastewater from both domestic and industrial settlements, pollutants brought from inland areas by rivers, coastal agricultural practices, tourism activities, extensive concentrations of holiday residence, port and marina establishments and mariculture facilities. Now, many commercial fish species that used to be found in abundance in the 1970s are under the danger of extinction due to many factors ranging from overfishing to water pollution and habitat loss. The rapid expansion of tourism facilities and activities along the coasts have destroyed the habitats of species such as marine turtles, dolphines and monk seals. Things are no better in the cultural heritage deparment either. Labelled as open-air museum  Turkey is at the crossroads of many ancient civilisations many of which were built on the coastal zones. These places are under growing pressures of mass tourism and urbanisation.

The law encourages no conservation but full use of coasts

Contrary to what we see in practice, the Article 43 of the 1982 Turkish Constitution defines coasts as state-owned entities. The article also states that coasts, shores and riverbanks should be planned and used only for public interest. However, there are 12 government bodies and almost 30 laws about coasts. Many of these legal texts contradict in the conservation-use axis regarding not only coasts but also other natural resources. The Law 2634 for the Encouragement of Tourism (1982) of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, for example, has helped nothing but boosting the use of coasts through their privatisation. The 3621 Coastal Law (1990), a legal text on protection of coasts, on the other hand, has legitimised almost all urban and industrial facilities and activities in the coastal zones through additional paragraphs that came in the following years. According to one of these paragraphs, coasts and land acquired from filling and desiccation are no longer under the protection of the 2863 Law on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property. The latest proposed change is changing the width of coasts from 50 to 10 meters. This would mean acquiring 40 meters wide public coastal zone to be sold to private entities; an abundant source for the government to create additional fund which is portrayed as an action for public interest. Worse of all, not only the Coastal Law, but also the Public Procurement Law, the 2013 Law on Protection of Nature and Biological Diversity, the Regulation on Wetland Conservation and many others have become use-oriented rather than conservation within the last 10 years.

Turkey’s 2023 Goals and their consequences

In short, coasts are the fillet for the government to create fund. And all these legal changes are made to overcome the reach that fillet. Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a dream of making Turkey one of the world’s 10 largest economies by 2023. The 2023 Goals have already had various adverse impacts on both nature and society. Turhan Uslu, a former scientist from Gazi University (Ankara), indicates that within the last 50 years 7487 km of Turkey’s coasts (90% of all the coasts) have been overbuilt. As the Ministry of Finance announced in 2013,  public social facilities – most of which are sand dunes – will either be sold, or marketised through construction in return for profit/land or Build Operate Transfer (BOT) model. This measn that we will see even more facilities on the dunes such as golf cources, volleyball courts, Thermal Power Plants,  tourism facilities, pipelines, airports, factories, coal mineries, roads and highways. Worst of all the coastal cities such as Istanbul will continue to receive migration due to better urban facilities and job opportunities which creates growing pressures on coastal zones.

The coasts are a precious life source for all and our natural/cultural heritage. In only half a century Turkey has lost a great deal of this life source. Coasts should be in the caring hands of public, not profit-oriented private entities. If not, contrary to AKP’s dream, it seems more probable that Turkey will be one of world’s 10 countries with greatest environmental disasters and conflicts by 2023.

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