UNDP and Turkish Government fight invasive species in rivers and oceans

November 7, 2022

Efforts to control lionfish and water hyacinth were showcased during week of awareness-raising events in Hatay

Hatay, 4 November 2022 – A fishing contest for lionfish and the removal of water hyacinth from the Asi River and along the Mediterranean coast at Samandağ were among the activities organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the General Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry this week in Hatay.

The events were part of a US$3.3 million project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to combat marine invasive alien species and preserve the health of key marine biodiversity areas. 

The activities were attended by about 75 representatives of Hatay Metropolitan Municipality and local municipalities, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Turkish Coast Guard Command, diving centres and schools, and other affected institutions and organizations. Participants had the opportunity to learn more about how to address the threats posed by marine invasive alien species.

First on the list of invaders was the lionfish, which destroys marine ecosystems, consumes native species and threatens fisheries-based livelihoods. One effective way to control the lionfish is to eat it. So the project organized a lionfish derby in Keldağ followed by a tasting of different lionfish recipes, in an effort to popularize the hunting and consumption of lionfish among Hatay residents.

The next event was the removal of water hyacinth at the mouth of the Asi River. The plant has been identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world. Water hyacinth blocks waterways and channels and also prevents sunlight and oxygen from reaching the water column and submerged plants due to its very rapid reproduction and spread, thus negatively affecting transportation, tourism and fishing activities as well as causing much destruction in the ecosystem and a significant decrease in biodiversity.

“Marine ecosystems are of great importance in fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity,” said UNDP Project Manager Mehmet Gölge. “Our project aims to conserve significant marine biodiversity by improving the country’s legal and institutional infrastructure, building capacity and raising public awareness about how to counter the threat of invasive alien species.”

Marine invasive alien species are defined by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as one of the main threats to Türkiye's marine biodiversity. As of the end of 2020, 105 of 539 alien species detected in Turkish seas were determined to be invasive. While two out of three species enter the Mediterranean from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal, the others are introduced by maritime transportation and aquaculture activities. Mitigating the impact of these species, controlling their spread and preventing their introduction are vital for the future of native species and habitats.

 “Society should be aware of the adverse impact of marine invasive alien species on ecology, economy and public health,” said Akif Günkut, Deputy General Director of the General Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks. “This project is a significant step towards developing a national policy and raising public awareness. Our actions now will help protect our planet by accelerating our efforts in combating invasive alien species.”

Invasive alien species destroy marine ecosystems, damage the food chain and lead to the extinction of native species. The most effective way to combat them is to prevent their entry. Prevention and control are only possible with the active participation of all stakeholders, including the public.

For more information:

Esra Özçeşmeci, Communications Assistant for UNDP in Türkiye, esra.ozcesmeci@undp.org