“Lake Tuz had been a paradise for flamingos, but now it has turned into a nightmare.”– Mehmet Emin Öztürk, Nature Photographer
For the past month, there has been news on the media regarding mass flamingo deaths in Lake Tuz between Konya, Ankara and Aksaray cities of Turkey. Authorities have made several different statements about what could be the possible reasons for flamingos to die. In this article, we will look at these reasons and see how they might have affected the survival of lots of flamingos.
Before starting with the reasons, let’s see why Lake Tuz was the habitat of flamingos and how they were evolving there. Lake Tuz is the second largest lake in Turkey with approximately 1665 km2 of surface area. It is a hypersaline lake meaning that it contains significant amounts of various salt types. In 2001, the lake was declared to be a specially protected area by UNESCO because of the flocks of Phoenicopterus roseus, basically known as the greater flamingo, breeding and nourishing there; and the high number of other living species such as plants, wintering birds, and halophytic bacteria. However, it is a question in mind whether Turkey has managed to protect it or not. Sorry, but it doesn’t appear to have been very successful.
Now, the reasons:
The region around Lake Tuz has many water dams which were already used more than necessary by the agricultural institutions and individuals nearby. Farmers have been using the groundwater to water their fields, and this has always been under control. But the hidden side of the work shows that the farmers are bringing the groundwater to the point of dying. And that hidden side is the illegal use of electricity. Considering the significant increase in electricity prices, many individuals in towns started searching for ways to generate electricity themselves. It turns out, they were using the groundwater to do so and now it takes approximately 800 metres for authorities to encounter water underground near the region. This way, the region’s water consumption reached 6.5 billion cubic metres, although, the close basin was 4.5 billion cubic metres only according to the Turkish Environmental Foundation, TEMA. As if that was not enough, starting last year, farmers have started building new and architecturally flawed water channels on these dams blocking the water from those dams from reaching the lake and promoting circulation. With all this excessive use of water resources and blockage of circulatory water to reach, the lake has receded about 4 kilometres. Thus, the flamingos, especially the baby ones, couldn’t find enough water and nutrients to survive and were subjected to death.
Of course, individuals play a huge role in the protection of the environment. But the authorities have far more sources and chances to take precautions or even set rules before anything happens. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case with Lake Tuz. Individuals around the neighbourhood and a few NGOs previously signed a compilation petition for the farmers and even wrote a letter of request for the Ministry of Environment. However, neither the Ministry of Environment nor the several other governorships and municipalities cared about the problem.
As I stated, individuals could always make huge differences in our world as well. However, when one’s government authorities do not take a step, an individual might think their efforts will be meaningless. If Lake Tuz was immediately protected through various new rules or bills set by the government, we wouldn’t be talking about the mass flamingo deaths right now.
- CLIMATE CHANGE AND DROUGHT
Turkey’s Central Anatolian Region has long been facing extremely high temperatures, especially in the summer season. Due to deforestation, increasing temperatures, and decreased rate of rain, Lake Tuz has been receding slowly for a while now. Last year, according to Professor Doğanay Tolunay of Istanbul University, the Konya province where Lake Tuz is located received around 350 millimetres of precipitation over the past year which is way below the average expectancy. Especially in these past few years, the water has receded far more than ever, not leaving enough space for newborn flaminglets to nourish and fly. It is a critical situation and Murat Türkeş, a Professor at Boğaziçi University’s Center for Climate Change Policy Studies, summarized the situation: “As a matter of fact, climate modeling shows 60% of lands, except for the Black Sea region and parts of southern Turkey, have a yearly shortage of water. It is obvious that we will have a serious water crisis in the next ten years.”
Things can always change. Although, unfortunately, we cannot get those flamingos back to life, we can prevent the others from suffering from malnourishment or lack of habitat. Even simple steps could make a huge difference. Let’s “start” respecting the dynamics of nature as a whole. Let’s encourage farmers to cooperate and use water fairly. Let’s encourage agriculture to switch to methods such as dripping which will ensure better control over water usage.
“Be proud of your work, mankind! Spend all the natural resources! I am ashamed of my humanity. You have dried up the water that feeds the lake, and the flamingos have died consequently.”– Fahri Tunç, Aksaray Photographers Association Vice President
“Hypersaline Lake.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 July 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypersaline_lake.
“Lake Tuz.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 July 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Tuz.
Ulu, Gökmen. “İnsanlar Tuz GÖLÜ’NÜ Kuruttu, 3 BIN Flamingo YAVRUSU Öldü.” Sözcü Gazetesi, 13 July 2021, http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2021/gundem/insanlar-tuz-golunu-kuruttu-3-bin-flamingo-yavrusu-oldu-6537243/?utm_source=ilgili_haber&utm_medium=free&utm_campaign=ilgilihaber.
News, ABC. “Thousands of Flamingos Die at Turkish Lake amid Drought.” ABC News, ABC News, 18 July 2021, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-18/thousand-of-flamingos-dead-in-drought/100301628.
Sabah, Daily. “Mass Flamingo Deaths Grip Drying Turkish Lake.” Daily Sabah, Daily Sabah, 14 July 2021, http://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/mass-flamingo-deaths-grip-drying-turkish-lake/news.