Turkish Seas Under Threat of Invasive Alien Species

Apr 1, 2018

Biggest threat to biodiversity: Invasive alien species in Turkey and how to fight against

With a growth of human and goods transfer in the world, it has become easier for plants, animals and other micro-organisms to move from place to place. It is getting much easier to move alien species into a region deliberately or accidentally. While invasive alien species were frequently on the agenda for the past decade or two, the climate change and lack of adequate knowledge on the issue rapidly increase the invasion areas of such species.

For Turkey, it is not much different. Turkey’s coastline stretches 8,333 km bordering four major seas. These extensive marine ecosystems support Turkey’s overall high level of marine biodiversity. In total, nearly 5,000 plant and animal species, some endemic, have been identified in Turkey’s marine waters. Such diversity is today under a serious threat.

Invasive Alien Species (IAS) have been identified by the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs (MFWA) as one of the principal threats to Turkey’s marine biodiversity. Approximately 450 IAS have been reported on the coasts of Turkey. Some 472 species of marine fish have been identified, of which 50% are believed to be at risk of decline due to a combination of threats. This vulnerability is mainly due to the fact that Turkey is surrounded by three different marine environments, with high endemism but at the same time having high risk of entry of IAS. Currently, approximately 450 IAS have been reported along the coast of Turkey and 21 species in the Turkish Black Sea.

Where do Invasive Alien Species come from?

There are two major pathways for IAS into Turkey’s marine waters: The Suez Canal), and human induced transport such as ship-mediated transport. In the 2011 national review of IAS in marine waters, it was found that 66% of the total IAS in Turkey’s coastal waters arrived via the Suez Canal, while 30% arrived via ship transport. The opening of the Suez Canal particularly and climate change facilitates the inset of new species. Alien plant and animal species proliferate fast in the Mediterranean. Experts predict that, on the present rate, alien plant species will outnumber the native species by mid 21st century. Due to the global warming, it is further projected that species endemic to the Mediterranean will be replaced by the Red Sea species and the Black Sea will become another Mediterranean. This indirectly bears on development. It is inevitable that commercial fishing is hurt due to degraded fish stocks. The entire Mediterranean includes more than 1,000 alien species. While the number of alien species in the East Mediterranean is more than 775, the number of invasive alien species along Turkish coasts is around 450.

Currently the larger part of the threat is posed by the Indo-origin poisonous species such as blowfish (Lagocephalus sceleratus), stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa), lionfish (Pterois miles) and migrant jellyfish (Rhopilema nomadica), which pose a threat to marine and human health. In the Black Sea, comb jellyfish (Mnemiopsis leidyi) and seasnail (Rapana venosa) continue to exert pressure on fish stocks and native species.

What is being done?

A three-stage hierarchical approach is adopted for addressing IAS outlined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): prevention, control, and mitigation. UNDP and Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs (MoFWA) initiate a new project in 2018 based on the Convention on Biological Diversity. The long-term objective of the Project is to minimize the negative impacts of Invasive Alien Species in order to support the conservation of the globally significant native biodiversity of Turkey’s coastal and marine ecosystems. The Project aims to ensure resilience of marine and coastal ecosystems through strengthened capacities and investment in prevention, detection, control and management of Invasive Alien Species.

The identification of Invasive Alien Species and threats, eliminating or alleviating adverse effects are of utmost importance both for native species and in economic and social terms. The Project ultimately aims to identify and minimize the impact of or eliminate Invasive Alien Species in key marine biodiversity areas, and alleviate the pressure on native species and habitats and monitor for future work.

The Project will focus on four key marine biodiversity areas:

1-İğneada National Park (Kırklareli),

2- Ayvalık Islands Nature Park (Balıkesir),

3-Marmara Islands (Balıkesir) and

4-Hatay-Samandağ Seal Habitat and Sea Turtle Spawning Ground (Hatay).

The long-term objective of the Project is to minimize the negative impacts of Invasive Alien Species in order to support the conservation of the globally significant native biodiversity of Turkey’s marine ecosystems. The Project also seeks to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, to the extent relevant and feasible within the scope of the Project which will endeavour to achieve the following three main objectives:

1. Develop an effective national policy framework on marine Invasive Alien Species

2. Build capacity building, share knowledge and data to identify IAS threats

3. Establish sustainable management, prevention, eradication, and control of IAS and restoration of IAS-degraded habitat at key marine and coastal areas.

The Project will be undertaken in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with GEF funding support. It has a budget of 3,344,654 USD. The implementing agency is the General Directorate of Nature Preservation and National Parks of the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs. The stakeholders are the Ministries of Food, Agriculture and Livestock; Transport, Maritime and Communications; Environment and Urbanisation; Health; Culture and Tourism; Coast Guard Command, universities and non-governmental organisations. The Project will last for 5 years and be completed in 2022.

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