İstanbul’s 3rd airport to cause widespread migrant bird deaths

İstanbul’s 3rd airport to cause widespread migrant bird deaths

A view from the ongoing construction of İstanbul’s third Bosporus bridge. (Photo: Sunday's Zaman)

May 10, 2014, Saturday/ 18:07:30/ GÜRHAN SAVGI | ISTANBUL
İstanbul's third airport under construction in the northern part of the city will cause widespread deaths among migratory birds, as it will be located on part of a perilous route for birds seeking to reach Europe from Africa, officials from BirdLife International have warned.

The $30 billion airport to the north of İstanbul is being constructed in a forest and wetland area. However, this region is used as a resting place by migrant birds travelling between Europe and Africa. The birds rest and feed there and then continue their journey. If the government doesn't abandon its insistence on constructing the airport, despite all the warnings from environmentalists who are concerned about the negative impacts the airport might have on the natural environment of this forested location, an important migratory route for billions of birds will be blocked. If this happens, İstanbul's third airport will be responsible for a massive number of migratory birds' deaths.

A warning has been issued by Middle East and Eurasia representatives of BirdLife International -- the world's largest nature conservation network -- regarding the possible negative effects of the third airport on migratory birds. On examining the Bosporus Strait and the region where the third airport is being constructed, the representatives have come to a consensus that the airport will put large numbers of migrating birds at risk.

BirdLife International works in cooperation with civil society organizations in 180 countries around the world. It is highly respected in terms of nature protection through its influential activities in the world. It prepares the most reliable lists of endangered species in cooperation with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The president of the nature conservation network, Hazell Thompson, told Sunday's Zaman that the birds, which know no limits, migrate between continents and serve as a source of balance in nature, adding: “They take the overbreeding of animals such as insects, caterpillars and mites under control. By scattering seeds and pollen around, they contribute to the production of plants such as cereals, vegetables and fruits, which are of great importance for people. We can say that when birds flap their wings less, people have less food and face various problems, such as disease. Anything that is good for birds is also good for people.”

Speaking about bird migration in general, Thompson stated that birds determine their tens of thousands of kilometers of migratory routes through a very complicated mechanism. “The Earth's magnetic field, stars, the wind and instinct have been directing these creatures for billions of years. Even those birds who are put in a cage as soon as they hatch from their eggs know how to find the right migration routes. While migrating, they fly over land where they can feed and be protected, as though the route were determined by a marvelous computer. If they cross the sea, they prefer destinations such as the İstanbul Strait and the Persian Gulf, where the shores are close to each other, because they spend much less energy by taking advantage of the warm air currents rising from the pieces of land. At this point, the loss of an area where they are being sheltered, protected and fed may cause fatal consequences for migratory birds. The birds fly uninterrupted as they expect to arrive at a spot to rest. When they cannot see this spot to rest, they become exhausted and even die,” Thompson stated.

Over 300 bird species migrate over İstanbul each year

Over 300 bird species migrate over İstanbul every year. This means İstanbul hosts billions of birds each year, though locals are often not aware of this. Fifty of those bird species are under threat of extinction on a global scale. These migratory birds prefer the northern forests of İstanbul as a spot to rest. Commenting on the issue, Thompson believes that the possible negative developments in İstanbul may affect all birds of the world to some degree. Thompson says BirdLife International will express their concerns about the third airport to the Turkish government and will ask the government to halt the construction of the third airport. Another attempt that BirdLife International is planning to take on the issue will be to put pressure on Turkey through various international treaties regarding the issues of endangered species and biological diversity conservation, which Turkey has signed.

But are birds under threat only in İstanbul? Of course not. For example, 90 percent of the global vulture population has been lost in India. The Panamanian government was attempting to turn a protected area into a golf course. BirdLife International expressed its concerns about the Panamanian government's project, but it could not achieve any results. So, along with its collaborators in Panama, BirdLife International took legal action against Panama's government. Messages were released by 120 countries calling a halt to the project. Eventually Panama announced that it had halted the project, showing a Constitutional Court ruling and its international law and commitments as the reasons for its decision.

BirdLife International recently held a meeting in İstanbul attended by environmental activists from 49 countries. Some activists from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK were among the participants at the meeting. The representatives of the RSPB, which is an institution with a more than 125-year history, shared their experience of four airport projects in the UK. According to these representatives, the British government has attempted to construct airports on four wetlands in the last 40 years. The government chose a bird conservation area, which was protected by the RSPB, for the construction of another airport for London. There were four bird species under threat of extinction. The RSPB managed to dissuade the government from implementing the airport project in that conservation area after a large-scale campaign it conducted against the project.

Dr. Tim Stowe, the RSPB's director of international operations, said at the meeting that the public in the UK has come to the conclusion, after its experience of those four airports, that it is more rational to expand an existing airport instead of constructing a new larger one, both in terms of its negative effects on nature and the financial burden it will bring to the state.

The third bridge is one of several highly controversial infrastructure projects taking shape on İstanbul's northern Black Sea coast. Across the northern stretch of İstanbul's Bosporus waterway, a $30-billion third bridge and adjoining road network are under construction. Environmentally protected lands have been rezoned to incorporate a “New İstanbul” of government-subsidized housing developments, while, barring future financing woes, a 45-kilometer canal is planned west of İstanbul to reroute shipping from the Bosporus.
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