"People say think globally, act locally. Well, if you think globally, it is overwhelming and you do not have enough energy left to act locally. Just act locally and see what a difference you can make!"
It was in my first year at university where I truly met ecology as a science. Simultaneously, I was fascinated with the dynamic interaction networks in nature: all species were interconnected within their ecosystem, each species could interact with their ecosystem and each ecosystem was interacting with others forming the biosphere. It was as if I opened a door to the most essential: Life!
Unfortunately, the more I dived into the mysteries of ecology, the more I was filled with gloom. There were environmental violations everywhere from local to global. I was feeling very small in front of a very complex and life threatening problem: global climate change, species extinction, decreased quality of life due to air/water pollution, unsustainable industry, over consumption. In Turkey, the situation was even harsher. Excessive deforestation for huge constructions, projects for thermic and nuclear stations and many hydroelectric energy stations over a single river. This gloom felt to me as big as the world itself, as a single human being I was feeling useless. Thankfully, my curiosity led me to several environmentalists in Turkey. As I talked to them, I realized that they were transforming their understanding of ecology to something very useful: they were acting locally! It is so powerful that as all these local acts merge, they create real change. Thus, I made up my mind! I decided to be involved in a concrete project for conservation of wildlife in Turkey. I knew that my country was exceptionally rich in biodiversity due to its climate and geography but wildlife was deeply in danger for many anthropogenic disturbances. During my research, my path crossed ways with the Yelkouan Shearwater Project. Now we are eight women following the Yelkouan, revealing mysteries of its life cycle and building conservation efforts.
The Yelkouan Shearwater Project, founded by Dilek Şahin, started with organizing Yelkouan counts every year during February at the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, during the Yelkouan migration from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.
The aim of the team is to monitor the movement and the population of the species Puffinus yelkouan as a Mediterranean seabird. With a decreasing population, it is listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In general, seabirds are threatened for several reasons but one of the most important threats is by-catch. By-catch is the unintentional hunting of non target species during fishing activities. During longline fishing, the bait on hook is an easier and more effortless food for seabirds. When they try to take the baits, the hooks get stuck usually to their throat and most often they die by drowning. This is fatally detrimental to the population because usually the seabirds who get caught as by-catch are the breeding adults who have nesting chicks. These birds also have the potential to breed again. The problem was has been experienced previously in Spain, Malta, Italy, France, Greece and Tunisia. Thus, we want to assess the problem in Turkey as well.
The project received the Future Conservationist Award in 2015 from the Conservation Leadership Programme which made the project possible. We chose the Aegean Sea as our research focus and we created surveys for fishermen. Now, we are applying these surveys constantly for assessing the rate of by-catch in a small Aegean village “Sığacık” as an example area. After gaining enough experience on the project and volunteer management, we are aiming to establish a network along the Aegean coast for regular data flow.
So far this initiative hasn’t created the massive local transformation that we would like to achieve due to many factors (which could be a totally new research theme). But it induced a different version of change. Even a more precious one for the start. Our failures changed us! We are now better team members, team leaders, scientists-to-be, project managers, budget directors, report writers, risk assessors, self-learners and self-developers. Now we know that there are always positives that come out of difficult times as we have learnt more from our mistakes. Even though our initial intention was to make a difference with a local project, the project has altered our perspective on project management. I believe now that with this new perspective we can confidently expect to see incredible differences from our work with seabirds in the near future.
With the same perspective, I invite all young conservationists to share not only their success stories (which are deeply inspiring!) but also their insightful failures so that we can learn from and support each other.
By Billur Bektaş