A showcase for sustainable tourism in Turkey

Posted: 13 August 2002

In Çirali, a coastal community on the south-western Anatolian coast of Turkey, WWF has created a successful model of sustainable tourism, with the local community actively participating in conservation activities and reaping economic benefits from their environment.

Cirali beachÇirali beach, Turkey© WWF TurkeyTurkey has been experiencing a surge in tourism activity, and is predicted to be the leading tourist destination in the Mediterranean together with Greece and Croatia by 2020. The south-western Anatolian coast of Turkey, an area identified by WWF as one of the most important for nature in the Mediterranean, is also the most impacted by mass tourism development which could lead to the irreversible loss of its biodiversity by 2020.

To avoid the destruction of its fragile coastline, the Government of Turkey adopted the Integrated Coastal Management approach aimed not only at nature conservation but also at preserving social and cultural integrity. Çirali was chosen as a pilot project to implement this approach.

Çirali moved from an agricultural economy towards tourism in the late '80s. Drawn to it by the activity in the rest of the Anatolian coast, Çirali's younger generation saw tourism as an easy source of income. The resulting construction of tourism facilities threatened loggerhead nesting sites.

Pollution problem

Pesticides from agricultural activities had already polluted soil and water sources, and these were further threatened by the growing presence of restaurants around the village's main spring. Moreover, illegal construction was on the rise due to the lack of implementation of the existing land development regulations. Loggerhead turtle on the Çirali beach, Turkey© WWF-Canon/Homo ambiens/R.Isotti-A.CamboneWith Çirali beach being one of the major nesting sites for the endangered loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta, on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, WWF Turkey (formerly known as Turkish Society for the Conservation of Nature (DHKD)), entered the scene initially to help protect this turtle. In 1997, the project was broadened from turtle protection to making the community aware and responsible for its natural environment.

To achieve its goal of creating a successful model of sustainable tourism in Çirali, WWF examined the management of land resources in the area, the creation of diverse, sustainable and environment-friendly economic opportunities, the protection of biodiversity, and the process of the local community becoming guardians of their natural heritage.

Land management

For the better planning and management of land resources, WWF first convinced the responsible ministry to enforce the existing Coastal Law. With the help of the Ministry and the buy-in from the locals, kiosks and restaurants built too close to the shore, thus violating the law, were moved to a legal distance from the coastline. WWF also designed a land-use plan which helped define the positioning of building infrastructure in the area. A land management plan was elaborated with guidelines and recommendations for wise use of land resources.

Another key for successful sustainable development is that the local community should gain sufficient revenue from their environment to value it. It is also important for the community to have income-generating activities throughout the year, instead of relying on just a seasonal one such as tourism.

Ecotourism activities were started which can generate awareness of and support for conservation, and create economic opportunities for the community. As part of the venture, nature guides were trained from among the community and trekking paths were identified. This activity has particularly attracted the young people of the community.

A move was also facilitated from traditional agriculture, which previously polluted soil and water supplies, to organic agriculture. A co-operative was set up by the local community to produce and market the organic agricultural products and to create a brand for Çirali products.

In its efforts to preserve the natural heritage of Çirali, WWF has also put in place several activities for the protection of the loggerhead turtle habitat. Visitor education, promotion of better turtle nesting habitat management practices, and constant monitoring of the beaches has relieved the pressure on the turtles, and the number of nests is increasing every year.

All through the project WWF worked closely with the 550-inhabitant community, sensitizing them to the values of Çirali's natural heritage and the need to preserve it. Furthermore, the community was actively involved in implementing the project. In the process of making Çirali a nature- and people-friendly tourism destination, the community has developed the sense of ownership and responsibility needed for the long-term sustainability of the project.

Based on Çirali's success, WWF is now exploring possibilities to replicate the model in similar small scale tourism areas along the 200 km coast in south-west Turkey. If the replication is strategically planned, it would give nature breathing spaces along the developed coast. The creation of a network of sustainable tourism examples could pave the way to an application on a larger scale. Finally, viable alternatives to mass tourism could lead to a positive change in tourism trend.

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