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HUNTING FOR IMAGES UNDERWATER
2001 / JUNE
On a sunny Aegean morning the sapphire sea was shimmering, and a gentle offshore breeze carried the scent of distant pine trees. The sandy beach stretched out lazily, unaware of the bustle that would begin shortly. As I sipped my tea I let this beautiful scene soak into me. We were at Karaburun, at the extremity of the peninsula west of Izmir. As the sun rose higher people wandered by ones and twos down to the beach, and soon the activity there was the centre of my attention. The Underwater Image Hunting Competition (SAGAY) 2000 was about to begin. From above the sea appeared crystal clear, but would the invisible depths be so? That was for the contestants who would soon begin diving with their cameras to discover.
The growth of diving as a sport and holiday recreation is the best indicator of just how little Turkey's seas have been affected by pollution despite population increase and industrialisation. Over recent years the number of visitors coming to Turkey for the sole purpose of diving and exploring the underwater world have been increasing steadily.
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However, preventing damage to the natural environment is a challenging task. Illegal and indiscriminate hunting and fishing are causing the rapid depletion of many species, yet protection of the environment is as important for human survival as for wildlife. National parks are one way of doing this. The world's first national park was established in the United States in the late 19th century, and the concept was adopted by Turkey as it was by other countries. After a series of laws passed to preserve wildlife, legislation was put into place for the establishment of national parks in 1956.
The seas surrounding Turkey are characterised not only by scenic beauty, but by the submerged buildings and artefacts of ancient civilisations, and both abundant and diverse species of wildlife. These factors have led to the idea of establishing marine as well as land national parks, and the Gökçeada-TÜDAV Marine Park designed and established by the Turkish Marine Research Foundation (TÜDAV) in 1999 is a welcome development.
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HUNTING FOR IMAGES UNDERWATER
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The park at Gökçeada, the largest Turkish island in the Aegean, aims not only to protect the sea in the area from pollution and exploitation, but also to educate the general public. With this object dives are organised to show the beauty and fascination of marine life.
Another organisation working in this field is the Middle East Technical University Underwater Association, which was established in 1985 by a group of lecturers and students. The association's aims are to research, conserve and publicise the natural and cultural features of Turkey's coasts and coastal waters. Their activities include basic and advanced diving, exploration and research, locating and recovering wrecks, and first aid courses. The association has also established a number of groups specialising in particular aspects of its work, such as Mediterranean Seal Research, Wreck Exploration, Cave Research, Photography and Videography, and Ecology. Among the projects undertaken by the association are protection of the loggerhead turtles'
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HUNTING FOR IMAGES UNDERWATER
2001 / JUNE
breeding grounds at Dalyan near Köycegiz in 1987, the location and study of wrecks dating from the Ottoman-Russian naval battle in Çesme Bay from 1988 to 1990, the discovery of two 1600 year-old wrecks containing glass blocks at Antakya on the eastern Mediterranean in 1992, and protection of the Mediterranean seal launched with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 1993. The latter project has now been taken over by the Underwater Research Association (SAD), and the Aegean resort of Foça continues to be a pilot region for conservation of the Mediterranean seal and the inshore ecosystem. Ongoing projects of the association are the Inventory of Sea Caves on Turkey's Coasts, the Cilicia Region Archaeological Field Surveys, and Identification of Species on Turkey's Coasts.
The Middle East Technical University Underwater Association organised the first Underwater Image Hunting Competition on the Aegean island of Bozcaada in 1992, with the slogan, 'Drop your harpoons and start hunting images.'
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HUNTING FOR IMAGES UNDERWATER
2001 / JUNE

One of the association's main objectives is the establishment of marine national parks, particularly in the northern Aegean region of Turkey. The photographic competition is more in the nature of a festival designed to attract public attention to the association's aims. It has been held at Bozcaada, Gökçeada, Foça, Ayvalik and Denizköy in previous years, and last year took place at Karaburun.
This year the association hopes that more people than ever will attend the annual event, which is open to everyone. Preparations are ongoing, and the place and date will be announced as soon as possible. The latest information is available on http://sagay.metu.edu.tr. So looking forward to seeing you at SAGAY 2001 to capture the beauty and magic of Turkey's underwater world. l


* Saner Gülsöken is a photographer.
Photos Courtesy of ODTÜ-SAT

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