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2008 Joint Whitley GOLD Award Winner
Cagan Sekercioglu Turkey Wetland and Freshwater
Community-based conservation, ecological restoration and ecotourism at Kuyucuk Lake, Kars, Turkey

Kuyucuk Lake in northeast Kars province lies within one of the least developed but most ecologically important regions of Turkey, an area degrading rapidly in response to human pressures. Found at the convergence of the Caucasus and Irano-Anatolian biodiversity hotspots, the lake is critical to both birds and the rural communities who live close to the 2.2 km2 lake. With winter temperatures reaching -50oC and an income of less than £400 per person per year, mile-high Kars is a harsh and timeless place, where summers are for stockpiling wheat, hay, and dung for fuel to survive the winter.

In this forbidding landscape of overgrazed steppe, Lake Kuyucuk is a beacon of life and the region’s most important wetland. With over 30,000 birds of 161 species, Kuyucuk is key habitat for globally Endangered White-headed Duck and Egyptian Vulture. The waterfowl are not directly disturbed by locals, but outsiders hunt illegally and poach raptors for falconry. Constant overgrazing by hundreds of livestock removes all the grass and most of the reeds. The spring water which feeds the lake is diverted for cows. There is an urgent need for a locally-based conservation program that benefits the villagers and restores Kuyucuk to its true glory.

Turkish conservationist Dr. Çağan Şekercioğlu, 32, initiated the Kars Biodiversity Project in 2003. Under the umbrella of local NGO Kuzeydoga Society, he is working at all levels, lobbying the government to increase protection and gain international RAMSAR recognition for Lake Kuyucuk. His holistic approach, the only example of its kind in Turkey, is introducing simple solutions that protect the wetland whilst bringing real benefits to local people. Students from primary to graduate level are being taught in the field, nurturing the next generation of custodians. Paths for birdwatchers open the possibility for significant contributions to the local economy whilst protecting nesting birds. A buffer zone around the wetland is reducing erosion whilst drinking points limit damage by livestock. The project’s emphasis on youth has energized the local desire for stewardship and has hit a live nerve in Kars to take control of the future of this special wetland.

International Publicity achieved for Kuyucuk Lake

Cagan has achieved record publicity success as a result of winning the Whitley Award, with TV apperances on national Turkish TV, coverage on BBC Worldwide, and an official letter of praise from the President of Turkey.  See all this coverage and more information on his campaign at