Freshwater ecosystems cover less than 1% of the planet yet are among the most diverse and threatened ecosystems in the world. These precious ecosystems are under immense threat for hundreds of years such that their estimated loss was 69–75% for the 20th century. There is also no global assessment of the health of those wetlands that do remain, many of which are likely to now be heavily degraded. On the other hand, one-tenth of all animal species including almost half the world’s known fish species live in freshwater. Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are areas contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity. One of the greatest threats to freshwater species is, therefore, the loss or degradation of habitats and Turkey is no exception. Recent findings show that Turkey has lost wetlands covering a surface area one and a half times the Sea of Marmara within the last sixty years.
Freshwater KBAs (FWKBAs) are yet to be identified for most parts of the world leaving few current opportunities for conservation and development managers to take account of freshwater biodiversity within the planning process to mitigate the loss of freshwater habitats and extinction of freshwater species. In Turkey, thirty-eight FWKBAs were identified using globally defined criteria, which are triggered by eighty-four freshwater fish and thirty-three mollusk (snail and mussel) species.
Lake Beyşhir, the second largest lake in Turkey, is forming Lake Beyşehir and Catchments FWKBA with its large catchment. The FWKBA is home to twelve threatened freshwater fish species and one is already extinct. Conservationists believe that the fate of remaining twelve species would be the same to become extinct if no action is taken. Foremost threats towards the species are a decline in water and habitat quality, habitat destruction, unwise water management, predation by introduced alien species such as Zander. If With the generous financial support of Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP), Doga (BirdLife in Turkey) in collaboration with a Magma Magazine, a generic geography magazine, acted for community-based conservation of globally threatened fish species and their habitats.
During the first months of the project, local stakeholders including fishermen, fishing cooperatives, academia (Isparta University of Applied Science Department of Fisheries, Isparta Fisheries Research Institute) and governmental agencies (Regional Directorate of Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, Local Directorate of Ministry of Livestock and Agriculture, State Hydraulic Works) were visited to better understand how the situation is seen within the relevant parties and obtain available data on distribution of threatened fish. In following months, Doga’s experts visited locations of previously reported habitats of the threatened species to check whether they still exist or not and revise distribution data. The fish were found at sixteen different locations all of which are small springs or tributaries flowing to the lake. Adversely, no threatened fish were encountered in the main water body of the lake. Eflatunpınar, which is also protected as an archeological site is one of the most important fountains with large areas available to the fish. These fish populations are diminishing rapidly, chiefly driven by the invasive species introduced to the lake. There are additional obstacles such as dams, irrigation canals, electroshock fishing, factory and sewage wastes which prevent the proper dispersal of fish, isolating their populations and further decreasing their numbers.
All revised data on the distribution of fish, threats, and actions of a Multispecies Action Plan were presented in a meeting conducted with the support of the Municipality of Beyşehir. The Multispecies Action Plan was sent to relevant stakeholders for revision and comments for finalization after the meeting. Meanwhile, a detailed infographic and news story were published on Magma’s October 2017 issue. The news story included first underwater photographs of Eflatunpınar.
On the last month of the project finalized Multispecies Action Plan for Conservation of Threatened Fish of Lake Beyşehir and its Catchments was sent to the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs to be approved. The plan will be presented at Local Wetlands Committee in December 2018 and come into force.
The project has been a good example of successful collaboration between different levels of stakeholders with the wider fishing community, civil society organizations academia and governmental agencies. The relationships established during the project’s implementation period will continue for the conservation of these threatened species.