Turkey’s Tuz Lake is drying up due to climate change, agriculture

KONYA, Turkey (AP) – For centuries, Lake Tuz in central Turkey has hosted huge colonies of flamingos migrating and …

KONYA, Turkey (AP) – For centuries, Lake Tuz in central Turkey has hosted huge colonies of flamingos that migrate and breed there when the weather is warm, feeding on algae in the lake’s shallow water.

This summer, however, a heartbreaking scene replaced the usual gorgeous sunset photos of the birds taken by wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc. Body of flamingos and adults scattered over the cracked, dried-out lake bottom.

The lake of 1,665 square kilometers (643 square kilometers) – Turkey’s second largest lake and home to several bird species – has retreated completely this year. Experts say Lake Tuz (Salt Lake in Turkish) is a victim of climate change-induced drought, which has hit the region hard, and decades of harmful agricultural policies that have depleted the underground water supply.

“There were about 5,000 young flamingos. They all died because there was no water,” said Tunc, who also heads the regional branch of the Turkish environmental group Doga Dernegi. “It was an incredibly bad scene. It’s not something I can do. delete from my life. I do not hope I encounter such a scene again. “

Several other lakes throughout Turkey have similarly dried out or fallen back to alarming levels, affected by low rainfall and unsustainable irrigation. Climate experts warn that the entire Mediterranean region, which includes Turkey, is particularly vulnerable to severe drought and desertification.

In Lake Van, Turkey’s largest lake, located in the eastern part of the country, fishing boats could no longer approach a dock last week after the water fell to unusual levels, HaberTurk TV reported.

“(We have) rising temperatures and falling rainfall, and on the other hand, water needs irrigation in agriculture,” said Levent Kurnaz, a scientist at Bogazici University’s Center for Climate Change and Policy Studies. “It is a bad situation in all of Turkey at the moment.”

A study based on satellite images conducted by Turkey’s Own University shows that the water level at Lake Tuz began to fall from 2000, according to Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency. The lake completely withdrew this year due to rising temperatures, intensified evaporation and insufficient rainfall, according to the study.

The study also noted a sharp drop in underground water levels around Lake Tuz, a hypersalted lake that stretches across the Turkish provinces of Ankara, Konya and Aksaray.

The Konya Basin in central Anatolia, which includes Lake Tuz, was once known as Turkey’s bread basket. Farms in the region have turned to growing profitable but water-intensive crops such as corn, sugar beets and alfalfa, which have drained the groundwater supply, said photographer Tunc. Farmers have dug thousands of unauthorized wells while streams feeding the lake have dried up or been diverted, he said.

Environmental groups say that poor government agricultural policy plays a significant role in the deterioration of Turkey’s lakes.

“If you do not pay them enough money, the farmers, they will plant everything that is water demanding and will make money for them. And if you just tell them that it is not allowed, then they will not vote for you in the next election. , ”Said Kurnaz.

The overconsumption of groundwater also makes the region more susceptible to the formation of sinkholes. Dozens of such depressions have been discovered around Konya’s Karapinar district, including one that Associated Press reporters saw next to a newly harvested alfalfa field.

Tunc, 46, a native of Aksaray, is upset at the thought that he will not be able to enjoy the flamingos with his 7-month-old son, as he did with his 21-year-old son. However, he remains hopeful that Lake Tuz can rebuild itself if the government stops water-intensive agriculture.

Kurnaz, the climate scientist, is less optimistic.

“They keep telling people not to use groundwater for this agriculture and people are not listening. There are about 120,000 unlicensed wells in the region and everyone is pumping water out as if that water will last forever,” he said. Kurnaz.

“But if you are in a flat place, it can rain as much as you want and it will not fill up the groundwater in a short time. It may take thousands of years in central Anatolia to rebuild the underground water table, “he added.

The drought and flamingo deaths on Lake Tuz were just one of a series of ecological disasters that hit Turkey this summer, believed to be due in part to climate change.

In July, forest fires destroyed a number of forests along the southern coast of Turkey, killing eight people and forcing thousands to flee. Parts of the country’s northern Black Sea coast were hit by floods that killed 82 people. Previously, a layer of sea glue, blamed for rising temperatures and poor waste management, covered the Marmara Sea, threatening life in the sea.

Although Turkey was among the first countries to sign the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the country persisted in ratifying it until this month, when it sought to be reclassified as a developing country instead of a developed country to avoid tougher emission reduction targets. Turkish lawmakers issued a statement rejecting developed country status while ratifying the climate agreement.

In the town of Eskil, near the shores of Lake Tuz, farmer Cengiz Erkol, 54, controlled the irrigation system on his field, where he grew animal feed.

“The water is not running as fast and abundant as it used to,” he said. “I have four children. The future does not look good. Every year is worse than the previous year.”

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Ayse Wieting and Robert Badendieck of Istanbul contributed.

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