The ecological cost of Turkey's industrialisation: Marmara Sea polluted by oil spill

Teaser Image Caption
Day 30 of Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010

It were the dock workers, who detected an oil spill in the late hours of January 12 at the Bay of Izmit in the Eastern Marmara Sea. The details, including the source of the leakage, remained unknown for a couple of days. The transition of vessels was restricted immediately and operations to cleanse the water began. During the investigation, various fuel types were found in 28 different locations around the bay. Later on, the source of the leakage was revealed as Poliport, a private port in the Diliskelesi quarter of Kocaeli’s Dilovası district. The leakage happened when a fuel tank overflew.
There were no satisfactory official statements on the accident. Conflicting reports emerged on the source of the spill, the companies involved in it, the amount of the leakage, and which areas were affected.
The Ministry of Environment issued a press release only a week after the spill. In the statement, the Ministry estimated that 90 to 100 tons of oil had been spilled, of which 60 tons were removed by the cleansing work. The press release also included the information that a company was sentenced to pay 2.100.000 Turkish Liras (over 500.000 Euros) for the damage to the environment.
Yet different media organs had reported that the the amount spilled was actually much higher (between 500 litres to 280.000 tons). Some reports mentioned that different types of fuels were detected at different points, a finding that might indicate a more complex incident than the overflow of just one tank.
Less than a month ago, on December 18, another vessel ran aground close to Izmir, causing a diesel oil spill of 200 tons to the Aegean. When the leakage could not be stopped for more than a week, experts had warned, that Turkey needs to develop its capacity to react to such incidents.
How these two accidents were handled by the authorities show that environmental protection is still not a priority for the Turkish government.
The Marmara Sea has become the “natural” casualty of Turkey’s path of industrial development. Industries and population are concentrated around the Marmara Sea, especially along the Istanbul-Izmit axis north of the Izmit Bay, where major ports connect Turkey to global trading routes.
However the region is also of extreme ecological significance. The Bosporus region is an intersection of migration routes of birds from Europe to Asia and Africa, and fishes from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The Marmara Sea is connected by two straits to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and has a special ecosystem, that also feeds the fishery sector of the country.
Of special concern is the Hersek Lagoon, an important bird area on the southern shores of the Marmara Sea. The area is protected under the International Ramsar Convention on the Protection of Wetlands, and is home to dozens of species.
The Marmara Sea and Istanbul are structurally vulnerable to environmental disasters due to their location as an important shipping passage. There have been eleven previous accidents causing oil spills in the last 60 years.