Forest in the water

The Flooded Forest at Lake Acarlar in Adapazarı is not only a phenomenon rarely encountered in the world but, with its rare bird species and aquatic plants, a unique oasis for nature buffs.

I magine a forest, a forest of familiar elm, willow, mountain alder and ash. But a forest whose roots stand submerged in water all year round. A forest Imagine a forest, a forest of familiar elm, willow, mountain alder  and ash. But a forest whose roots stand submerged in water all year round. A forest where birds large and small sing in branches that reach up to the sky. Imagine a lake from which tall trees rise, with velvet ducks, pochard (Aythya ferina) and great crested grepes (Podiceps cristatus) wading among them. This is a flooded forest, the flooded forest of Lake Acarlar, a natural formation rarely encountered in the world. A lake whose bottom is covered with dense forest. A ‘flooded forest’ is ‘a forest that either exists all year round or forms at certain times of the year in lakes and swamps with a high water table’.
The Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest in Adapazarı province is located almost 6 kilometers west of the point where the Sakarya River empties into the Black Sea. Bounded by the townships of Karasu on the east and Kaynarca on the west, Acarlar. with an area of 23 square kilometers, is Turkey’s largest single patch of flooded forest. The water level of the flooded forest, which is fed by the Kaynarca (Yırtmaç) River from the southwest and the Kancalar (Terzioğlu) from the south and from their smaller tributaries, ranges between 1 and 5 meters over the year depending on rainfall and seasonal weather conditions. Runoff from the flooded forest empties into the mouth of the Sakarya River through the Okçudere.

HOME OF TURKEY’S RARE AQUATIC PLANTS

Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest is rich in flora and fauna due to the convergence here of all the characteristics of the forest and wetland ecosystems. Both the forest itself and its ground cover exhibit great diversity owing to the damp climate. Although ash is the predominant tree, elm and mountain alder are both abundant. And what luck! The water violet (Hottonia palustris), a delicate flower that grows in the water, can be seen in Turkey only in a few wetlands in and around Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest. Other rare aquatic plants of Turkey such as the summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) and swamp fern (Blechnum serrulatum) also grow here. Yet other species observed on the site include the yellow waterlily (Nuphar luteum), the white waterlily (Nymphaea alba) and water hemp (Apocynem cannabinum). Centaurea, genista luncea, sand reeds, and various species of lilies and euphorbia are observed on the sand dunes between Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest and the Black Sea coast. Brambles, a species of wild brush that grows at most 3-4 meters high, are found on the north coast. lake Acarlar Flooded Forest lies within the bounds of the Kefken-Karasu Coast Important Plant Area, which encompasses a mosaic of dune, marsh, open water and flooded forest habitats.

ON THE BIRD MIGRATION ROUTE

Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest is also an indispensable site for birds. Because it lies on one of two important migration routes that cross Anatolia, close to 200 species of birds either stop over or breed here during the year. Ornithologists have observed that many birds, including domestic species, summer migrants, winter migrants and those that merely fly over, find an opportunity for shelter, refuge, reproduction and feeding here at Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest. Among them are the squacco heron, the spoonbill, the glossy ibis, the cormorant and various species of divers and seabirds,  as well as the pochard, the goldeye, the velvet duck, and sea and fish eagles. Owing to these properties, Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest has the status of an Important Bird Area and lies within the bounds of the Sakarya Delta Important Bird Area.
The flooded forest is home as well to a variety of mammals such as rabbit, fox,  jackal and wild boar. Meanwhile fish species such as carp, catfish, Conger eel, rudd, pike, and grey mullet are found in the lake.

LAKE ACARLAR FLOODED FOREST UNDER PROTECTION

Recently the nightmare of climate change and global warming has begun to threaten Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest as it has all of Turkey’s wetlands and water resources. It must be said however that the threat to the flooded forest goes back much earlier. For ten years now various protection efforts have been under way against all the problems that are encountered here. As a first step, Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest was declared a First Class Natural Area in 1998 in a report compiled by the Environmental and Woodlands Protection Society of Turkey (TÜRÇEK). Then, between 2004 and 2007, the same society conducted a series of studies for the purpose of outlining the environmental problems threatening the area, developing criteria for sustainable use of the site, and raising the awareness of the local people regarding it.  The environmental characteristics and importance of the site were explained to locals of all ages through informative talks, and their attention and that of the local authorities was drawn to its natural beauty, thereby ensuring that they appreciate the value of the treasure on which they live. Later, an unused school building in the village of Karamüezzin immediately adjacent to the flooded forest was repaired in cooperation with the local people and opened as the Acarlar Flooded Forest Educational Center. Students come for the day to the center, where they not only avail themselves of theoretical education in environmental matters but can also engage in field studies.

Acarlar was selected as an extension of the Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Project (GEF II) being carried out by the Turkish Ministry of Forestry and Environment, and World Bank funding was secured for the purpose. Work is currently under way in the region. The support of the World Bank is especially important for promoting the area and establishing a balance between protection and use.
Prevention of further environmental degradation in Lake Acarlar Flooded Forest is still possible today. But there remains a constant need for support and further efforts in order that already lost environmental assets be replaced and the gains made up to now not be lost.