’No birds allowed!’ over new airport

One of last week’s most talked-about issues was, once again, the plans for Istanbul’s third airport.

First, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remark hit the media: “We are building a new airport, and some groups are trying to prevent it, but they will not be able to. We are going to complete it no matter what.” Then came another statement by Nihat Ozdemir, the head of Limak Holding, a member the Cengiz-Kolin-Limak-Mapa consortium, which has undertaken the third airport project.

Explaining that he had discussed the issue with Erdogan, he said: “The project’s funding problem has been solved. We are going to get a loan totaling 4.5 billion euros from seven banks. The majority — 60 percent — of the total loan will be secured from three state-run banks, Ziraat, Halkbank and Vakifbank, while the remaining 40 percent will come from four private banks, Garanti, Yapi Kredi, Denizbank and Finansbank.”

The project was already highly problematic when, last week, plans to change the migration patters of birds came to light. As you may already know, Istanbul’s third airport is to be constructed in the middle of the most frequently used migration routes in the world. In his statement Ozdemir mentioned that they are now working on a system aimed to alter these migration routes.

According to studies on the bird migration in Istanbul, around 400,000 storks, 200,000 scavenging birds, hundreds of thousands of songbird species and a significant number of water birds migrate through the area. The migration periods of the birds tend to intensify in March, April, May, August, September and October. It is estimated that 800,000 birds pass through the Istanbul region annually while migrating.

The environmental impact report (cED) on the planned third airport describes the location of the project as “a site where a multitude of bird species thrive, due to its diverse ecosystem.” According to the cED this diverse ecosystem includes forests, dunes and wetlands. On the site where the third airport is to be built, 10 plant species facing risk of extinction according to the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) can be found, eight of which are threatened on the global scale. A total of 23 plant species growing on the site are rarely seen in Turkey, and 13 of these are endemic.

The ecosystem, which also hosts many species of birds and around 70 natural ponds, will be destroyed during construction of the airport. Moreover, experts warn that this airport, if built, would have a serious impact on the world’s bird population.

The Northern Forests Defense group has included in a report some findings by ornithologist and Associate Professor at Istanbul University Zeynel Arslangundoidu, who claims the cED has underestimated the true number of bird species at risk, that at least 200 species of birds can be found in the northern forests of Istanbul, while the cED only mentioned 17. He also noted that in order to draft a cED, these birds should be observed for minimum two years, as it is highly important to prepare an accurate inventory, but that the cED does not include this information.

Another aspect of the issue is that the risk of plane crashes should be calculated with more accuracy. Arslangundoidu pointed out that an airport being built in an area with such a dense migration route might lead to two or three plane accidents involving birds every year. The weight of birds using this route is usually between one and four kilograms. The weight of storks, the species migrating through this area in the greatest numbers, is between three and three-and-a-half kilograms.

In conclusion, to construct one of the world’s largest airports with six runways in an area over which migrating birds fly for nearly half of the year is to rebel against the natural order — devastating ecosystems and causing likely fatal plane accidents.

Birds have been following the same route for thousands of years now. It is impossible to change this route.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman