The Eurasian country of Turkey is a land rich in geographic diversity and history. One of the most famous beaches along the Mediterranean coast is Iztuzu Beach, which is also known as Turtle Beach. This location attracts over 1 million tourists each year. The main attractions are the picturesque beaches, ancient Lycian rock tombs, historic ancient ruins, and soothing mud baths.
Iztuzu Beach, which is 5-kilometers long, has seen numerous beaches built around its premises. The area is an estuary, which is where freshwater meets saltwater from the ocean. The lagoon in the area is a natural habitat for Caretta Caretta turtles (loggerhead sea turtles). This is an endangered species, threatened by the ongoing development of tourist attractions. Between the months of May and September, the beach is closed to the public to allow the hatching and incubating of young sea turtles.
Turtle eggs hatch under the sand, the young turtles then begin life crawling towards their permanent home in the sea. While these mass hatchings may paint a rosy picture of the health of the sea turtle population, the species is actually in the red list of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), indicating an endangered status. Dalyan is among the most critical and important beaches for loggerhead sea turtle nesting.
Local residents of Dalyan do not share in the enthusiasm surrounding the resorts. The population of sea turtles has been decreasing by up to 8 percent each year; a statistic that negatively correlates with the spending on tourism projects in the area. Native residents have made it a habit to watch over the sea turtles, forbidding guests from entering the beach where the majority of eggs are laid.
Facing the shadow of developers lining up to build luxury hotels on the beach, the area was declared a “Koyceigiz-Dalyan Special Environmental Protection Area” by the government. The announcement was made in 1988 to prevent additional construction and development. The entire region is under the jurisdiction of the Turkish Environmental Protection Agency for Special Areas.
Despite the additional attention paid to the status of sea turtles in Dalyan, developers have continued to acquire new projects in the area. Local residents and environmentalists have been monitoring the beach for years and continue to struggle in preventing development. The attention of national media has been limited on the case, depriving the groups of the attention and awareness they need to create decisive change.
Although the Dalyan municipality has successfully managed the beach for years, negotiations to transfer authority of the beach to a private company have persisted. The details of the contract were not public, keeping conservation groups and the public in the dark. Despite court rulings declaring private ownership of the beach illegal, construction trucks have moved in to conduct activity in the middle of the night. These trucks appeared to be under the management of a private group known as DAL-CEV.
DAL-CEV, the private company that has won the rights to operate in Dalyan, told reporters that the firm has been operating there for 25 years. A spokesperson claimed that the deal was transparent and the news circulating them is not accurate. They also promised that the company’s projects would result in additional employment opportunities, improved medical facilities, and educational infrastructure for local residents.
Disputes remain as to the transparency and validity of the land deal. Local lawyers and members of the ‘Save Iztuzu Beach Platform’ told media that there was no written bid and the deal was carried out through private conversations. The conservation agency has questioned why DAL-CEV would operate in the middle of the night if they claim to be authorized to work in the area. The company has struggled to earn the trust of local residents and conservation groups, with numerous questions about their intents remaining unanswered.
The beach has been declared a special protection zone for more than 25 years, but the challenges that sea turtles have faced in recent years continue to grow. Many conservationists have questioned the need for new sun beds and hotels when the creatures continue to experience difficulties.
The Turkish public is gradually devoting their attention to the concerns at Dalyan. The DAL-CEV company web page was hacked by a software group, who demanded to the company to cease its operations. The elite, including actors, actresses, and musicians, have announced their support for the locals. Many construction projects have increasingly encountered resistance from local residents.
Despite the increased pressure on these companies, the protesting parties are yet to have the legal and political resources needed to force action. Additional support is required from the international and domestic community to prevent further development and harm to the turtle’s native habitat.
Iztuzu Beach has remained a sanctuary for loggerhead sea turtles for decades. Booming tourism projects have altered the landscape and placed the turtles at risk. Local residents and conservation groups have remained dedicated to countering the threats posed by tourism projects for years. Their efforts have attracted a respectable amount of attention, but it has not been enough to keep the tractors and bulldozers away. They need further support in the form of international media attention, proactive government action, and private action groups. Until further support arrives, the future of the local sea turtle population remains on a fragile balance.