Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Turkish lake with likely clues to Mars gains unwanted fame

Turkish lake with likely clues to Mars gains unwanted fame

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
NASA believes Turkey Salda lake could offer clues to a crater on Mars but environmental activists fear the natural phenomenon with its bright white sand and sparkling turquoise waters is at risk. AFP

Turkish lake with likely clues to Mars gains unwanted fame

Boasting azure waters and white sands, a Turkish lake that NASA thinks hides secrets about Mars threatens to become too popular for its own good.

Lake Salda gained international renown when US scientists began poking around in preparation for the Perseverance rover mission, which has been beaming back videos from the Red Planet since February.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory even posted a picture of the pristine lake on its site before touchdown, saying it might resemble what an "aqueous" Mars looked like billions of years ago.

Now, the 4,370-hectare (16.9-square mile) lake in Turkey's southwest has been picked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of a project to create more green spaces for public use.

The news spells disaster for local activists and lawyers, who fear that the twin blows of NASA and Erdogan's interest could open the floodgates to tourists.

Splashing around in its waters, the sea of humanity could destroy the very ecosystem that made the lake special in the first place, campaigners warn.

"The future of the lake is at risk if millions of people come," said Lake Salda Preservation Association head Gazi Osman Sakar.

'It's alive'

The lake is most famous for the White Islands area with the brilliant sands, as well as endemic flora and fauna such as the Salda seaweed fish.

There are also minerals of different origin. NASA thinks one of them, hydromagnesite, is similar to the carbonate minerals detected at Jezero Crater -- a former lake on Mars that the rover is now exploring.

The hydromagnesite sediments along Lake Salda's shoreline "are thought to have eroded from large mounds called 'microbialites' -- rocks formed with the help of microbes," NASA said.

This all folds into the mystery about possible life on Mars, in some microbial form a very long time ago.

There are many tectonic lakes like Salda across the world.

But what makes Salda unique, geology engineer Servet Cevni said, is the lake's transformation into a closed ecosystem with its own living mechanism.

"Because it's alive, it's so sensitive to outside interventions," Cevni told AFP.

Yet that intervention is already on its way in the form of nine small buildings that have appeared near a planned People's Garden by the lake.

Sakar said some of the white sand has already been moved from the White Islands area to another called People's Beach for road construction.

"The project should be cancelled," Sakar said. "The lake cannot be protected while it's used."

Court battle

Swimming is forbidden at the White Islands but people are still able to take a dip in other parts.

Sakar's association wants the lake off limits entirely for swimming to preserve its ecosystem. Instead, he proposes creating observation posts for visitors to see the lake.

"If single-cell organisms die, Salda is finished," the engineer Cevni agreed. "Those White Islands won't be renewed, that white structure won't come together."

The damage thus far can be recovered in 150 to 200 years if people do not destroy it further, Cevni said, adding: "If we do, it won't ever recover."

The Lake Salda Preservation Association has seen its legal bid to cancel the green spaces project rejected in court.

Sakar is appealing the ruling and also campaigning for UNESCO to put Salda on the world heritage list.

"Salda is dying," Sakar said.

But campaigners are not the only ones expressing concern.

Aysel Cig, a goat-herder who lives in a village close to the lake, said things were more pleasant before Salda gained its fame.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Turkish goat-herder Aysel Cig (L) walks with her goats on April 9, 2021, near the shore of the southwestern Turkey Salda lake, in Burdur province. AFP

"Our lake, our village was much cleaner three, five years ago," she said.

Responsible tourism

But besides dirt and foreign organisms, tourists also bring cash, which the locals around Lake Salda welcome.

Suleyman Kilickan, 60, worked in a cafe with plenty of outdoor seating by the lake that employed 30 people before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Interest in the lake rose considerably with the NASA mission, Kilickan said, noting that most of his visitors were foreigners who appeared to be respectful of the lake.

"If there's tourism, there's life," Kilickan said.

"I would encourage tourism," he said, emphasising the importance of ensuring visitors act responsibly.

The environment ministry said last month it would limit the number of visitors to the White Islands area to 570,000 a year.

Nearly 1.5 million people visited the lake in 2019, and 800,000 came last year during lulls in coronavirus restrictions.

But Nazli Oral Erkan, of the Burdur Bar Association's Environment Committee, said the proposed cap was not enough to protect the lake.

"Salda is like a natural museum," she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports