ECOTOURISM IN TURKEY
Tourism is one of the major industries in Turkey. Turkey has been an important tourism destination especially for international visitors for the last 20 years. It attracted 41,4 million visitors in 2014. Even if Turkey’s primary attraction is its sun, sea and sand destinations, it has a very old history, a rich culture, and a huge ecotourism potential. Turkey has easily identifiable strengths on ecotourism. These strenghts can be listed as follows; unique natural environment, rich cultural and archeological resources, delicious local cuisine, accommodation facilities compatible with natural landscape, good climate, traditional handicrafts and authentic souvenirs, hospitable local people.
The biological diversity increases the significance of Turkey in terms of ecotourism. Forest ecosystems are the most valuable areas for ecotourism activities. 27.6 percent of the Turkish territory is occupied with forests, and 93 percent of these forests are natural, and there are 564 kinds of trees of which 76 of them are endemic. The rich Turkish flora includes more than 9.300 varieties of plants. A nearly one third or Turkish plant species (3000 species) is endemic to Turkey.
Anatolian peninsula is the homeland of several species that 40.000 animal species found in the country. Today, the mountains and national parks still abound with wildlife, such as brown bears, wild boar, lynx, wolves, mountain goats, water buffalo, the occasional leopard and over 400 species of birds. Turkey is one of the most important bird migration routes in the world. The total number of migratory and local bird species are 456 in Turkey.
In Turkey the majority of the eco-tourism activities are focused on national parks, coastal areas and archaeological sites. In Turkey, there are 40 national parks, 32 nature protection areas, 22 natural parks, 16 special environment protection areas, 144 important plant areas, 1 biosphere reserve area. Turkey has 35 areas that are currently being protected due to the existence of endangered flora and fauna. These have become key locations for eco-tourists, who strive to experience the purity of the country. Turkey offers countless opportunities for ecotourism including trekking, canyoning, hiking, bird watching, and camping.
Visitors preferring to relax, may join in a variety of activities such as hiking and trekking in the heart of the nature. There are several marked paths which are eco-friendly and allow visitors to take in the natural beauty of the country. To illustrate there are six regional routes which are marked by local authorities consisting of 2529 kilometers walking routes and 1124 kilometers mountain biking routes in Western Black Sea Region. Among these routes Kure Mountains National Park (KMNP), the top ecotourism destination of the region because of its uniqiue vegetation and wild life species is the most popular area visited by 20.000 tourists anually. The KMNP is one of the privileged protection areas of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It has been the first PAN Parks (the European wilderness protection organisation) certified protected area in Turkey. Yenice Forests, regarded by WWF as one of Europe’s 100 forest ‘hot spots’ in terms of their diversity of monumental trees, deep valleys, rivers is the second most popular place for ecotourists. The area attracts 5000 visitors annually. Some short and long-distance walking trails including the Lycian way, Carian trail, the Saint Paul trail, Phyrigian way, the Evliya Çelebi way, Hittite trail, Kaçkar mountains, Sultan's trail, Mount Ararat trails, Cappadocia trail offer ecotourists to discover the wild life, the traditional culture of local people and the historic places (castles, mosques and churches, bridges) of Turkey. For more information please visit http://cultureroutesinturkey.com/
Canyon passing is the second important ecotourism activity in Turkey. Turkey hosts many canyons that have been carved out over millions of years by water. Travellers can explore the hidden canyons of Turkey where they can jump into clear, cool pools of water, and abseil down waterfalls while exploring hidden gorges. Akdağ Tokali Canyon, Aydos Canyon, Butterfly Valley, Çatak Canyon, Çoruh Valley, Ersizlerdere Canyon, Göksu Canyon, Göynük Canyon, Horma Canyon, Ihlara Valley, Incekaya Canyon, Kaputas Canyon, Karanlik Canyon, Kirpe Canyon, Köprülü Canyon, Saklikent Canyon, Ulubey Canyon, Valla Canyon, Yazili Canyon are noteworthy resources for ecotourists who like adventure and outdoor activities which required high effort. Valla canyon is the most adventurous canyon in Western Black Sea region which is 12 kms long within the boundries of KMNP, Kastamonu.
Turkey is a unique place for watching birds. Turkey is located on many important bird travel routes. The country is home to more than 400 bird species. Ornithologists have identified 502 bird species in Turkey, of which 437 were found in abundance in the country. There are 14 sites (Sultan Marshes, Lake Manyas, Lake Seyfe, Lake Burdur, Göksu Delta, Lake Uluabat, Kızılırmak Delta, Gediz Delta, Akyatan Lagoon, Yumurtalık Lagoons, Meke Maar, Kızören Obruk, Lake Kuyucuk, Nemrut Caldera) designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites) in Turkey. 11 of them are important bird areas. The wetlands of Turkey including Lake Seyfe, Salt Lake, Menderes Delta, Kuş Cenneti, Gediz Delta, Kızılırmak Delta, Meriç Delta, Lake Uluabat, Göksu Delta, Lake Manyas, Sultan Marshes, Lake Beyşehir are the most preffered areas for birdwatching as hundreds of bird species nesting in these areas. Mountains such as Kaçkar, Küre, Ilgaz provides memorable experiences for ecotourists in terms of birdwatching.
For flora observation there are many areas especially in the forest areas, in national parks and in plateaus. Kazdağları, Taurus Mountains, Hatila Valley National Park, Camili-Gorgit Nature Reserve Area, Küre Mountains National Park, Ilgaz Mountains National Park, Kaçkar Mountains, Honaz Mountain National Park, Yenice Forests, Çoruh Valley, Plateaus of Düzce Province, Lake Abant, and Lake Sarıkum have very rich rare and endemic species for flora observation.
Another type of ecotourism that is on the rise in Turkey is eco-agro-tourism. Visitors can ecperience Turkey's organic/ecological agriculture in many rural areas. At 87 Tatuta farms which is "Eco-Agro Tourism and Voluntary Knowledge and Skills Exchange on Organic Farms" project of Bugday (in Turkish wheat) Association spanning seven regions of Turkey tourists take part in a variety of training sessions, activities and workshops. From permaculture to cheese, jam and bread-making courses, farms offers many workshops.
Turkish government promotes alternative types of tourism that is not harmful for the environment. According to the Tourism Strategy of Turkey-2023, the goal of eco-tourism in Turkey is to use the “natural, cultural, historical and geographical values” of the country to encourage people to visit these places in beneficial ways.