Visions of a wetland: linking culture and conservation at Lake Manyas, Turkey



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In wetland management, investigating the relationship between global or national institutions and local residents and the ways in which local communities are integrated into the management process has become of increasing importance. Much conflict exists between the users of wetlands and external groups that want to "manage" these places. This research tries to understand these issues by using a case study from Lake Manyas in northwest Turkey. Lake Manyas has a long history of protection driven mostly by Western environmental approaches. How have local communities been affected by these approaches? To what extent and in what ways have local resource uses and practices been changed? Can local strategies be used as a basis for an alternative approach to conservation? How are the new ideas and practices negotiated and applied at the local level? To address these questions, fieldwork was conducted at Lake Manyas in the summer and fall of 1999. Ethnographic interviews and participant observation were used to understand local resource use. Interviews were conducted with the key figures in the area of wetland conservation in Turkey. Historical records from Ottoman times helped to analyze traditional resource use. Oral historical records were compiled to understand different perspectives. Local press archives, the national park archives, and village archives shed light on local attitudes, awareness, and perceptions. The results of the research showed that conservation programs mostly failed to provide the intended protection. Despite the continuous efforts for the past 50 years, the Lake Manyas ecosystem declined as biodiversity decreased, the habitat of birds was damaged, and resources that local residents depended on were depleted. The conservation programs failed for a number of reasons. First, despite the trend of conservation to become more of a social science conservation is still a physical/biological science in Turkey. Both conservation institutions and literature failed to address the social/cultural dimension of conservation issues. The lack of proper consultation and communication with the local residents and communication between the multiple managers of wetlands, uncertainty in the responsibilities of government branches, and lack of long term strategic planning contributed the failure of the programs. A center-driven, highly bureaucratic planning system made it difficult to achieve considerable success in community-based management and local participation remained at a minimal level. Local residents were mostly ignorant of what outsiders were trying to do although they were highly aware of the ecological character and value of the protected area.