October 24, 2021

NASA Says This Lake Is Like Being on Mars—and Turkey Needs to Save It From Vacationers

7 min read


Yaǧmur Güneş wished to check Mars. On an change 12 months spent within the U.S., she’d encountered the idea of planetary geology and was utterly fascinated. “I didn’t know that I might follow geology past Earth,” says Güneş. Quickly, she shifted her science research to concentrate on Martian analogs, locations on Earth that share bodily or geological options with the pink planet.

“No matter I’m engaged on, I’m all the time making an attempt to make connections about Mars, making an attempt to grasp what I do know, enthusiastic about Mars,” she says.

“I feel it’s very attention-grabbing to attempt to perceive a planet that I’m not dwelling on, particularly Mars,” says Güneş, “as a result of it’s identified that Mars and the Earth had been very alike. They’re like sisters and twins, like brothers.”

When she returned to her research in Turkey as a PhD scholar in geomicrobiology at Istanbul Technical College, it turned out that Güneş was ideally positioned to check a planet tens of millions of miles away.

“There was a headline [in our department] that stated, when you’re interested in Mars, go to Lake Salda.”

Lake Salda, a freshwater lake situated within the southwest of Turkey, has all the time been placing for its uncommon magnificence. Nicknamed “the Maldives of Turkey” because of its uncommon white sand and water that dances between deep navy blue and turquoise, Lake Salda has drawn guests previously who had been desirous to swim within the clear water, stroll or camp on the white shore, and admire the bizarre formations on the Beyaz Adalar part of the lakefront. However in August of 2019, the lake drew a special form of customer: NASA.

It seems that Lake Salda is the one identified lake on Earth to share options with Mars’ Jezero Crater, the place NASA landed the Perseverance Rover in February 2021. In anticipation of that mission, NASA dispatched a crew of U.S.- and Turkey-based scientists to do fieldwork at Lake Salda, a crew that included Yaǧmur Güneş. By finding out the geology and mineralogy of Lake Salda, NASA researchers had been in a position to acquire perception into the potential format—and potential traces of life—on the Jezero Crater. When NASA introduced the connection between Lake Salda and Jezero Crater, a lake that was little identified exterior of Turkey shortly discovered itself thrust into worldwide prominence.

Turkish information websites trumpeted the lake’s extraterrestrial connection. NASA revealed weblog posts in regards to the profitable rover launch’s connection to Anatolia. However the consideration highlighted a battle that had been simmering underneath the floor about tourism, environmentalism, growth, and the federal government.

The principle tourism attraction at Lake Salda has all the time been Beyaz Adalar, the whitest stretch of seaside with pillowy white rock constructions that rise above the lake. It’s additionally been the primary draw for scientists. Beyaz Adalar seems like a lush moonscape, blazing white with stones that seem like bleached brains, or discarded coral. The constructions the place the NASA scientists research are tough white protrusions that was once lined with water. These constructions comprise geological clues about Lake Salda, and by extension, about Mars.

“Lake Salda is essential by way of its distinctive hydro-geological formations,” says Dr. Sedat Kalem, dialog director of World Wildlife Fund Turkey. “The present types of cyanobacteria, that are thought-about as the primary life types on Earth, are nonetheless energetic right here. It’s a uncommon instance, which imposes an enormous duty of meticulously defending this heritage on our shoulders.”

Till not too long ago, vacationers might swim within the Beyaz Adalar a part of the lake, climb on the constructions, and camp on the seaside. However that modified with a controversial authorities initiative to redevelop Lake Salda in a method that promotes tourism whereas defending the setting.

Alperen Kerkuklu is the venture website management engineer for the Salda Lake Conservation Undertaking, which launched in 2019. At the moment, the lake was designated a particular protected website on the highest ranges of presidency, and plans had been made to each shield the character and management the specified inflow of vacationers. Kerkuklu helped design the brand new plan for Lake Salda, with a watch in the direction of minimizing the earlier injury vacationers had been doing to the setting with out shutting down tourism utterly.

The event plan from the federal government shut down lots of the companies that had sprung up alongside the lake, changing them with kiosks that may promote souvenirs and Turkish snacks like gozleme, a savory crepe. Raised wood walkways have been put in place to information guests, and wood boundaries alongside the shore have been set as much as forestall automobiles from driving on to the water’s edge. As a substitute, there’s a new car parking zone two kilometers away from Beyaz Adalar, and an electrical trolley to ferry guests to the seaside. New buildings that may comprise eating places and amenities have additionally been constructed.

“We have to do that to manage the vacationers,” says Kerkuklu, “In any other case, when you do not do that venture, everyone will assault the lake.”

The venture has been greeted skeptically by environmentalists and a neighborhood that has realized to be cautious of presidency growth initiatives. There’s precedent for his or her skepticism, as nature and heritage have typically been the casualty of growth in Turkey, from the tried destruction of Istanbul’s Gezi Park that launched nationwide anti-government protests in 2013, to the submersion of the historic town of Hasankeyf, to recent controversial development in the Black Sea province of Rize. Feryal Cevikoz, a journalist and activist who began a petition to guard Lake Salda, summed up a standard line of considered these form of environmentally disruptive initiatives: “If the federal government is doing one thing, I can’t imagine that it’s going to be one thing good.”

Nonetheless, Kerkuklu’s design tries to stability the necessity to shield nature and tourism.

Earlier than the venture started in 2019, automobiles might drive as much as the sting of the water and folks generally barbecued, smoked, and camped on the seaside, inevitably leaving their litter behind. Now, Beyaz Adalar is sort of utterly blocked off and the seaside has been principally cleared of human litter, whereas those that want to swim can go to different sections of the lake, together with the Halk Plaji seaside. The one option to see any of the Beyaz Adalar facet of the lake is to take an electrical trolley from the designated car parking zone to a tiny spit of white seaside two kilometers away, the place vacationers can pose subsequent to 2 vibrant blue “SALDA” indicators and see the lake as a background, within the distance. Boundary ropes and posts are supposed to forestall vacationers from going to the lake.

How efficient these restrictions will likely be continues to be a query. Over the Eid al-Adha vacation in July, five people were fined for vandalizing the lake by taking mud baths and smoking, two issues which can be prohibited. Indicators and wood boundaries can solely achieve this a lot to guard a lake that guests really feel entitled to take pleasure in any method they like.

Incidents like this contribute to the sensation that tourism shouldn’t be allowed on the lake in any respect, no less than not in its present kind. Mustafa Şahin is a lawyer registered with the Antalya Bar Affiliation, and he is without doubt one of the legal professionals who filed a case to cease the federal government growth at Lake Salda. He believes that blockading entry to Beyaz Adalar just isn’t sufficient to guard the fragile ecosystem of the lake.

“This space must be opened to guests with the meticulousness of a museum. And it must be evaluated as a analysis heart and brought underneath safety,” says Şahin. “Entry to the lake must be prohibited, and strolling on the white dunes must be prohibited.”

Dr. Kalem believes a extra sustainable type of tourism might shield the setting at Lake Salda. “Visitation must be restricted as per carrying capability and focus extra on instructional actions fairly than overusing it for smokey picnic or swimming,” he says. “Once more, efficient administration, safety and good monitoring are essential for a sustainable final result.”

Even because the venture nears completion, the strain stays. Kerkuklu was attacked by two locals in June who disagreed along with his work at Lake Salda. Maybe it gained’t be attainable to bridge the communication divide in a rustic that’s so polarized and mistrustful of presidency initiatives, or to seek out the stability between permitting tourism and defending nature.

However lately, Beyaz Adalar is blissfully quiet, with the people-free seaside stretching out in an infinite ribbon of white. The sky is crammed with the smooth chirp of birds and tiny clusters of small silver fish dart by way of the clear turquoise water, now not disturbed by people.

Güneş, the scientist, thinks that it must be attainable to each shield and luxuriate in Lake Salda, so long as the distinctive constructions at Beyaz Adalar are secure. “There must be a time and place for all of the vacationers’ visits,” says Güneş. “I don’t suppose it ought to all be banned, as a result of—it’s not knowledgeable opinion—I simply don’t like the concept of banning folks from someplace very lovely simply because it’s scientifically attention-grabbing.”



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