The Transcaucasian Trail is more than just a hiking trail. It gives local communities new appreciation for local nature, new sources of income and creates a new international community of trail-builders that get to know the Caucasus in a new way.
In 2017, the villagers of Hovtashen in the Ararat region of Armenia started noticing a strange phenomenon. The white storks they lived so closely with were not so white anymore – covered by a thick black substance, they were struggling to fly. As researchers and conservationists received the first alarm, they raced to help these iconic birds. Six years later, as we visit the Ararat plain, we see these contaminated storks with our own eyes and learn that putting an end to this disaster is still far away. But where does the substance come from and how can the contamination be stopped?
As we approached the province of Hatay, we had no idea yet how intricate and strong the nature protection community really is here. But soon enough, we found out that like the underground network of trees in a forest, the protectors of Hatay developed a unique and diverse network, consisting of academicians, conservationists, media personnel and nature enthusiasts, working as coordinated as we have not seen before.
And what are they protecting? Taking up only 0.7% of Turkey, Hatay hosts 60% of all of the country’s mammal species. Moreover, it is a major bottleneck for migratory birds and hosts some of Turkey’s most important wetlands belonging to the Asi river basin.
The Turkish NGO Nature Conservation Centre (Doğa Koruma Merkezi) is a great example of how NGOs can use scientific expertise, practical experience and education activities to bridge gaps between authorities and people. Their projects include a creative spin on tackling the climate crisis, nature education, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity protection.
As nature protection cannot be divided from politics, it has also been strongly influenced by the past years of political turmoil in Bulgaria. In response, throughout the last years, civic movements have mushroomed in the country to protest against various threats to the environment, coordinated by the biggest Bulgarian environmental NGOs. We visited the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, who set out to build a resilient and growing community of conservationists.
One of the biggest wetlands along the Black Sea coast are the Burgas lakes in Bulgaria. The five lakes and their surrounding wetlands cover almost 100 km² and on the right days, you can see thousands of birds here. We met up with the NGO ‘Green Balkans’ and the NGO ‘Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation’, two organizations that run projects for their protection, and learnt about the complex interrelation of traditional salt production and biodiversity in two hypersaline lagoons.
On our second day with Conservation Carpathia, we joined Ionut and Robert, two rangers working on the reintroduction of the European bison to the Făgăraș mountains. CARPATHIA started with the reintroduction of this large herbivore three years ago, and by now there are four groups in two localities within the project area. We accompanied Ionut …