The Gökova Bay project: Protecting the world’s most over-fished sea

Today is World Oceans Day, and earlier this week the UN’s International Day for the Fight Against Illegal Fishing was observed. There are few people who understand the challenges of ocean protection better than Zafer Kizilkaya, who has dedicated himself to this cause since first visiting Gökova Bay in southwestern Turkey in 2008. Zafer is now President of Turkey-based conservation organisation Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (AKD), who have spearheaded a programme combatting illegal fishing in this region since 2012. A recently published video by The Economist has allowed us to glimpse an insight into Zafer’s work with this project, which is now funded by the Endangered Landscapes Programme as part of a scaled-up project with Fauna & Flora InternationalYou can watch the video clip below, and read further thoughts from Zafer about the future of the project.

Zafer told us:

Create one good example of a marine protected area; that was the whole idea almost ten years ago. In a depleted part of the Mediterranean we established the first marine patrolling and enforcement model to be carried out by the local community. Some of my colleagues said I was dreaming, and this would not work. But we empowered the local fishermen. We taught them how to monitor and report illegal fishing activities to government authorities, closing the loop between local knowledge and enforcement authority. 

Today we have already witnessed huge improvements from this project, and Gökova Bay’s marine ecosystem has already passed the tipping point towards successful restoration. There is now so much interest in the Mediterranean, from Marine Protected Area managers to fishing communities, and increasing exchange visits to Gökova Bay to see the project’s blueprint. 

What is next for this project? Sustaining it, and replication. The Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP) came at the right time. Its funding has allowed for a bigger, bolder vision; to scale up the Gökova Bay model and create a corridor of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). It may sound like another dream, but it’s one that we have already started to turn into a reality. The ELP has developed our little spark into a long-term conservation goal.  

The resilience of oceans against climate change impact and unsustainable exploitation has continued to deteriorate, and it is simply because in the short-term there are higher costs and lower profits when resources are used sustainably. Also, with current systems those profiting from unsustainable exploitation are often not the same people who pay the price of environmental degradation. Today, MPAs cover 6.5% of the Mediterranean Sea, but the fully protected (no fishing zone) areas cover just 0.04%.  We are still too far from the Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations Sustainable Goal’s calls for protecting at least 10% of the oceans, but we are now more aware of the long-term cost of not doing it. This is why we are excited for the future of this project – the question in my mind is why nobody has attempted this work before.”