Kaş is a small town in southern Turkey where the pace of life is still much as it was 100 years ago. This is the place of sunken cities, spice stands and old ladies chatting in the cobbled streets at dusk. It’s situated along the ancient Lycian Way, but visitors can enjoy new boutique hotels, and day-trippers can mingle with third-generation fishermen. This eclectic mix gives Kaş character – something that can be harder to come by in Turkey’s massive coastal resort towns of Antalya and Bodrum.
Situated on a beautiful Mediterranean coastline with its back to pine forest and face to the turquoise sea, Kaş is also a place where natural assets underpin the local economy. But these same assets are threatened by over-exploitation. Can Kaş continue to charm visitors with its natural beauty, or will tourists love the place to death?
A concerned group of tour operators, hoteliers and fishermen is working with WWF to make tourism work for nature, and nature work for tourism. It starts in the sea.
“Kaş is an exceptional natural environment,” says dive shop owner Murat Draman. He was drawn to Kaş in 2002 after more than a decade as a dive operator in Bodrum. Fed up with the crowds, the pull of quaint, sleepy Kaş was powerful. “I didn’t move here with a business plan,” he says. “I moved here with a life plan.”
Murat has been involved since the beginning of the process to designate 258 square kilometres of coastline and sea from Kaş to Kekova as a marine protected area, with zones designated for fishing, diving or strict protection.
“Of course the richness of the ocean, of the Mediterranean Sea, is a plus for the existence of our business. But the same resource is used by the fishermen, the tour boats, by others who have businesses in Kaş, like restaurants and hotels. All of us interact with this environment,” says Murat.
By limiting development along the coast and protecting key habitats, the goal is to maintain the town’s unique appeal, attract tourists who are interested in enjoying nature and culture, and rebuild fish stocks for the long term.
While the area was zoned for protection in 2012, enforcement of the rules remains insufficient. “Illegal fishing and the boats that allow tourists to do sport fishing are undercutting our efforts,” says fisherman Osman Doğan. He is head of a cooperative of some 30 fishermen, and supported the creation of the protected area. He says he believes in the concept, and the members of the cooperative observe the regulations even though it means more work. But he is impatient for results.
“If the area is managed in an ideal way, there will be more fish and that will encourage the next generation to continue fishing,” he says. As things stand today, neither of his two sons wants to follow in their father’s footsteps. “What we need is a boat and staff to do the patrolling. It should be local people, us fishermen, who do this job. I can protect my own region better than anyone else,” says Osman.
The success of the protected area and its ability to support fishermen is of interest beyond the fishermen themselves. “People come here to see the real Kaş – how people live. It’s nice to go to the harbour and see the colourful boats and the men busy with their nets,” says Ahmet Ateş, owner of Hideaway Hotel. “I know the young generation doesn’t want to continue, but the fishing lifestyle is good for tourism. You don’t see that at the big resorts.”
Yves Kapfer is head of the French underwater photography association. Now in his fourth year of diving with Murat in Kaş, he explains what keeps him coming back. “I don’t come for the fish. I come for the scenery, for the atmosphere. It’s not like diving in the Red Sea, and that’s why I like it. Kaş is different.”
And Yves expects things to be even better in the future. “There aren’t many fish, and that’s a problem. But the water is clean and there is very rich micro-life. So now with the protected area, I expect more fish will come back.”
Knowing this rebound won’t happen without some help, Murat and the Kaş Underwater Association developed a programme to educate divers and generate support for the protected area. For a small donation, clients get a souvenir badge featuring an iconic species from the region. With the funds raised, the association is putting in place mooring buoys, so dive boats don’t drop anchor on delicate sea grasses or other recovering habitats.
“Everything depends on the realization that our survival as a community depends on the survival of our environment,” says Murat. “The more information that goes to the people, the more motivated they are, because what we have around us is something beautiful.”
Since the creation of the marine protected area, WWF has continued working with community members to fulfil the vision of a robust but sustainable tourism industry.
“We know the downside of mass tourism in the Mediterranean. Kaş is an example of the potential upside of tourism built around nature protection,” says Giuseppe Di Carlo, director of WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative. “There are still pockets of pristine marine environment in the region. We’re connecting people from Albania, Croatia, Algeria, Turkey and elsewhere to share lessons about how to leverage what people love about these destinations in order to save them.”
“We want Kaş to stay small, and focus on sustainable tourism that uses natural resources in a renewable way,” says Murat. “If we focus only on growth, Kaş won’t be Kaş anymore.”