The first two women rangers have joined marine conservation patrols in Turkey. ELP project partner Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (AKD) – or the Mediterranean Conservation Society – have recently expanded to welcome Ayşenur Ölmez and Melisa Nur Çolak to the Gökova Bay to Cape Gelidonya project with Fauna & Flora International (FFI).
Since 2019, the project has worked to implement Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) across 500km of eastern Mediterranean seascape. In the run up to International Women’s Day, we spoke with the rangers to hear about their motivations, working practices and challenges in their vital work at sea to protect the marine ecosystem.
What does your day-to-day work look like?
Ayşenur: We try to adjust our patrol hours to other people working at sea. We have unpredictable working hours, and we try not to share these with anyone other than the collaborating rangers and the field managers that they report to so that we can achieve our goals. In some cases, we also use instant notifications from contacts in the local area. That’s why we are always ready. We also use a two-person system on our boats for safety and security. With the radio and telephone system, we are in contact with both our field manager and the coastguard so that we can immediately report any situations that we encounter.
Melisa: We start patrols early in the morning. Depending on the weather conditions, we usually go out 5-6 days per week. We look out for any illegal fishing, improper mooring, anchoring in restricted areas, tents, campfires and pollution, and speak to our teammates or law enforcement if we detect an illegal situation.
What kind of information do you collect?
Ayşenur: We collect data about illegal fishing, and information on species that are seen and caught. At the same time, as we see creatures such as dolphins, Mediterranean monk seals, and turtles, we check and record their health if we can. If we encounter situations like wildfires, anybody needing lifesaving or a broken boat at sea, we also help as much as possible.
Melisa: We also record the number of boats in each bay, water temperature and the names of any boats that receive warnings.
What did you do before, and what motivated you to become a ranger?
Ayşenur: I studied Turkish language and literature, and my previous job for many years was fishing in Gökova Bay. My family’s occupation is fishing – I grew up on a boat. You can see that there has been a decrease in the fish catch over the years. The increase in invasive fish species and the decrease in fish species with high economic value made me question the sustainability of fisheries. And while I was thinking about what I can do, I came across the opportunity to work as a protector at the Mediterranean Conservation Society. My faith in changing things got stronger. Protecting the sea, which I see as my home, motivates me.
Melisa: Before this, I was a nurse in private and public health institutions. I wanted to become a ranger because of my love and sensitivity to the sea and the environment.
What is the hardest thing about being a ranger?
Ayşenur: Being a woman. This was the biggest issue I had as a fisher. As a ranger, this is still the biggest issue that I have. For years, I have tried to explain that my ability to work at sea is not affected by my gender. I spent years getting people to take me seriously. When I first started as a ranger, people didn’t take me seriously. But of course, that has changed over time. Being at the sea is my favourite thing in this life, because I am home. I don’t see the problems I encounter as serious because I can solve them by taking very firm steps over time.
Melisa: The heat in summer and rain, cold, and wind in winter. Also, some boat owners who do not want to listen to what we are talking about and repeatedly ignore our warnings.
What message would you like to send to others wanting to work in marine protection?
Ayşenur: Deciding to work in marine protected areas means that your life has come to a certain point. The desire to do something not only for yourself, but also for your environment, your future, your next generation, and someone you don’t know somewhere in the world. If you have this desire, please do not wait. Don’t stop. It will be a task that relaxes you and is good for you. Protect your home, and be happy.
Melisa: They should take calm and decisive actions in the face of problems related to marine life. They should also fight to protect and respect the sea, nature and every single living creature.
Please note that this article was written before the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in early 2023, which have had devastating and far-reaching impacts on a large region and millions of people. This also poses unique challenges on women and children. At AKD’s request, we invite readers to consider supporting ongoing disaster relief efforts at https://ahbap.org or other reputable organisations.
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