The dirt road, which bisected Lake Kuyucuk, the first Ramsar wetland of eastern Turkey, has been converted to an island on which birds can roost and breed safely. The 200-m-long island was constructed with the unprecedented support of the Kars governor Mehmet Ufuk Erden in a record two months and made Turkish conservation history. The island, bigger than the Galatasaray Island in Istanbul, is the first man-made island in the landlocked, 163,000 km² Eastern Turkey region. The creation of the island also restored the natural water regime of the lake by connecting the southern and northern sections formerly bisected by the old Kars-Akyaka road. The island, constructed quickly and cheaply at a time when the construction of an artificial island in Istanbul is still being debated and The World Artificial Island project in Dubai has been halted due to the global economic crisis, will also increase nature tourism in the region.
The island was finished and announced during the XI. Turkish Birding Conference, which was hosted in Eastern Turkey for the first time by Kars Kafkas University and KuzeyDoğa Society. The island was the big surprise of the conference and exhilarated Turkey’s birdwatchers. The governors of Arpaçay and Akyaka districts, Kars director of Environment and Forestry Erol Bilgir, Kars director of Nature Protection and National Parks Murat Doğanay, KuzeyDoğa Society team, Kuyucuk village chief Turan Demir, conference participants, local villagers, and the media attended the announcement of the island. Kuyucuk villagers prepared an excellent local breakfast by the lake for over 110 participants. James Kuria Ndung’u of Kenya, a bird ringer volunteering for KuzeyDoğa, added an international touch to the ceremony.
Nature protection boundaries of Lake Kuyucuk were established on October 8, 2008. This was the culmination of the conservation and research efforts of the Kars-Iğdır Biodiversity Project carried out since 2004 by KuzeyDoğa Society, Kafkas University and Kars Directorate of Environment and Forestry, with the support of Kars governorship, Kars municipality, Arpaçay and Akyaka governorships, Kuyucuk, Duraklı and Carcıoğlu villages.
In April 2008, the Kars Directorate of Environment and Forestry and KuzeyDoğa Society jointly requested Turkey’s Wetland Commission to undertake the conservation zoning of Lake Kuyucuk. On October 8, 2008, the delegates of the wetland commission, local villagers, the KuzeyDoğa team, and other stakeholders circumnavigated the lake and agreed on the conservation zones and the Ramsar boundaries of Lake Kuyucuk. The wetland boundary, the Ramsar boundary, the buffer, core protection, and ecological impact zones were drawn. It was agreed that the old dirt road bisecting the lake should be removed. KuzeyDoğa Society proposed that this dirt road be converted into a 200-meter-long island, because it would cost less money and time, and would provide a peaceful haven for breeding birds.
During a meeting on March 12, 2009, Kars governor Mehmet Ufuk Erden gave the orders to convert the dirt road into a bird-nesting island. Kars province and Arpaçay district governorships, Kars Directorate of Environment and Forestry, Kars Special Provincial Administration, Kars Directorate of Water Works and representatives from surrounding villages attended this meeting.
Based on ecological principles and state-of-the-art bird island construction methodology, the construction began on March 19, 2009 under the supervision of the KuzeyDoğa team, wetland restoration expert Dr. Sean Anderson of California State University Channel Islands, and Stanford conservation ecologist Dr. Çağan Şekercioğlu. Bulldozers, excavators, trucks and other heavy machinery were provided by Kars and Arpaçay Governorships, Kars Special Provincial Administration (İl Özel İdare) and Kars Directorate of Water Works (DSİ). The construction was completed on May 17, 2009.
50 m from both edges of the dirt road were removed and the excavated soil was added to the southern side of the remaining 200 m to expand the area of the island. Local tree species such as birch and willow, suited to this steppe wetland ecosystem, were planted on the northern side of the island by the Kars directorate of environment and forestry. Soil was added to gradually descend into the lake, in order to enable more species of birds to use and breed on the island. There are plans to place nesting platforms on the island for cormorants and herons. The island will be inaccessible by people, livestock, dogs, and foxes, so that the birds can breed on the island safely.
We are very thankful to the Kars governor Mehmet Ufuk Erden for enabling this groundbreaking, largest ecological restoration project in Turkey. His personal enthusiasm, vision and commitment to nature protection were the biggest factors for successfully realizing this historic first. Constructing an island for birds is the best demonstration of the environmental sensibility here in landlocked Kars. Besides providing a haven for breeding birds, this island will promote Kars and Lake Kuyucuk throughout Turkey and the world. We hope it will also contribute to the local economy by increasing nature tourism. This island, the culmination of our ecological restoration work at Lake Kuyucuk, should also inspire other nature protection and ecological restoration projects in Turkey.
We have so far recorded 220 species of birds at Kuyucuk, sometimes exceeding 40,000 individuals at once. The reed beds that provide shelter and nesting areas for birds have been destroyed due to overgrazing at Lake Kuyucuk, which we estimate to host more than half the 465 species of birds found in Turkey. The lake is 219 hectares and has a circumference of 7.8 km. More than 5500 cattle and sheep graze around this shoreline. Foxes comprise another threat to breeding birds. This island will provide a haven from human and cattle disturbance and from fox predation. Bird numbers should increase as a result of higher breeding success on the island. In addition, the removal of the dirt road reconnected the much larger southern portion of the lake with the smaller north, which has dried during previous summers.
We expect that reeds will grow on the island due to the lack of grazing. In time, we hope to have a waterfowl colony, hopefully reminiscent of the breeding colony of Manyas Bird Paradise in western Turkey. The island and its birds will attract more nature tourists and will increase local income at Kuyucuk, Duraklı and Carcıoğlu villages around the lake. During Kuyucuk Nature Festival in October 2008, Turkey’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertuğrul Günay and governor Erden of Kars stated their support for nature tourism at Lake Kuyucuk. A first for Turkey and one of the few in the world, this island will make Lake Kuyucuk a true bird paradise and will promote Kars as an example of nature conservation and nature tourism.