Turning venomous spines in to jewellery: Tackling invasive species in Türkiye

Posted: 3rd July 2024

Photo: AKD

As part of the Gökova Bay to Cape Gelidonya project with Fauna & Flora, the Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (AKD) team have been working to promote invasive fish species entering the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal as a climate change-adaptive future food. A key target is lionfish, which is one of several Indo-Pacific species moving across the seascape as part of what is known as the “Lessepsian migration”, initially made possible by the canal and accelerated by warming water temperatures. Lionfish had no market value at the start of the project in 2019, but thanks to Akdeniz Koruma Derneği’s (AKD) promotion and industriousness it is increasingly being caught and providing income for local fishers, sold to restaurants and promoted in the local food industry – in doing so also taking pressure off of local species.

AKD were inspired by some innovative solutions to decrease the pressure of invasive species on marine habitats, especially ideas tested in the Caribbean and Florida for lionfish. Lionfish are invasive and consumed in many parts of the world, but the project has developed the national first efforts to market them.

Participants at the lionfish jewellery workshop. Photo: AKD.

A key challenge for Turkish small-scale fishers catching lionfish, who historically would not have encountered them, is their long and venomous spines. If lionfish spines break the skin, their venom causes severe pain, swelling and numbness and more rarely can lead to serious complications. AKD have held “New Fish Seminars” with small-scale fishers and cooperative members across Türkiye’s coastline to not only promote invasive species as food, but also to provide guidance for safe capture and removal of the spines for cooking and consumption. Given the durability and unique appearance of the spines, the team have also recently trialled reusing these discarded spines to further improve sustainability and expand opportunities for incomes from these invasive species.

In a diversification of the work with fishers, AKD hosted a jewellery workshop in collaboration with a local arts and crafts centre in Gökova, where lionfish waste was transformed into accessories. The attendees turned spines and scales into necklaces, keyholders and earrings, and then brought them to Akyaka Market for sale. AKD co-hosted the stall with Slow Food Gökova and Ula Artcraft Club, with profits from the sales shared between the craft club and AKD. The team presented the challenges posed to the Mediterranean from invasive species and distributed identification guides to the public.

Lionfish spines being made in to jewellery. Photo: AKD.

Çiğdem Sümer, a teacher at Ula Artcraft Club, said “These accessories will not only serve as a source of income for women but also contribute to the well-being of our seas. The practice of using lionfish for both meals and jewellery is a beneficial endeavour, and we are delighted to have been a part of this workshop.”

The workshop was an excellent example of upcycling, zero-waste, and alternative income generation. The initiative forms a small but innovative part of the ambitious marine ecosystem restoration project in Türkiye, where nature conservation, sustainable food, and now sustainable fashion intersect.

To find out more about the Gökova Bay to Cape Gelidonya project, visit their project page. To read more about the new fish initiative, read this article

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