The Mediterranean supports countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa—but its fish stocks are almost completely collapsed. Meet the man who is leading attempts to revive its marine habitats.
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This is the extraordinary story of one man’s dream to save the most over-fished sea in the world. Zafer Kizilkaya has almost single handedly turned a ravaged bay in Turkey into one of the most effective and thriving marine conservation areas in the Mediterranean. His hope is to inspire others to bring marine life back to one of the most famous but damaged parts of the ocean.
It’s a chilly December morning on Turkey’s eastern-Mediterranean coast and Zafer Kizilkaya is a man on a mission. He’s dedicated to enforcing the no-fishing zones that he has helped create here in Gokova Bay.
Within just 20 minutes Zafer and one of his rangers have spotted something suspicious. Since marine conservationist Zafer set up the ranger system here in partnership with the Turkish authorities they’ve seen a significant drop in illegal fishing. It all began after Zafer first visited Gokova Bay in 2008 on a research trip from his home city of Istanbul. The damage he witnessed to marine life compelled him to stay and devote his life to repairing this.
Zafer lobbied his government to make the bay a protected area and ten years on his research suggests marine life has increased by 800% within his no-fishing zones.
But the revival faced another threat new species of fish coming into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. These invaders were eating the native fishes’ food and grazing parts of the seabed bare so Zafer had to adapt and come up with an innovative solution.
To make this work, he had to hook the local population into eating these unfamiliar fish and that meant persuading people to change their diets.
Zafer’s vision has delivered the bonus of raising the incomes of local fisher people by 400% and bringing a previously decimated industry back to life. Visit the fishing co-operative here and you’ll find an array of invasive species for sale caught outside the no-fishing zones.
Zafer’s innovations have delivered for both people and planet in this small bay and he’s now working to create another marine protected area in Turkey. It looks like a lonely mission. Latest figures show just 0.04% of the Mediterranean is a no-fishing zone 50 times lower than the average for the whole ocean.
Zafer is going to need all the help he can get.
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- 1.This is the most over-fished sea in the world | The Economist