Devastated by forest fires, Turkish beekeepers see bleak future

The forest fires in Turkey left little mark, turning the green forests into ashy and barren hills. The destruction is intensely felt by Turkish beekeepers, who have lost thousands of beehives as well as the pines and insects their bees depend on.

Twelve days of deadly wildfires have taken a heavy toll on Turkey’s honey industry and even its long-term outlook looks bleak.

Almost all of the inhabitants of Osmaniye, a district of the seaside resort of Marmaris in the southwestern Mediterranean, are beekeepers. Their beehives once overlooked the green hills of Mugla province, where Marmaris is located, and provided the main income for many families.

Ali Kaya, 33, is a second generation beekeeper. After his father’s death, he took over the honey business his father started in 1979. Yet this week, Kaya lost 250 beehives in Osmaniye to the forest fires, as well as the entire ecosystem on which its bees depend. not solve its economic problems.

He says the whole region is in shock.

“There is nothing left here, no more trees. Burnt animals. Some people’s houses and roofs have burned down, ”he said. “I have no idea what we’re going to do. Our heads are all messed up, our mentality destroyed. We cannot think clearly here in Osmaniye.

The endemic red pines of Anatolia stretch across the Taurus mountain system. They can be seen along the Turkish coast from the eastern Mediterranean to the northern Aegean Sea, including many around Mugla. The pines provide a welcoming habitat for dozens of shrubs and are an ideal environment for bees.

Mugla bees produce a special honey from pine. Unlike most of the honey in the world, which is created from the nectars of flowers, Mugla bees collect secretions from Marchalina hellenica, a mealybug that lives on pine trees and feeds on their sap. What they leave behind, bees take to make nutritious honey.

The forest fires in Turkey began on July 28 amid a fierce heat wave and raged for days in more than half of Turkey’s provinces. On Sunday, forest fires were still burning in the provinces of Mugla, Aydin and Isparta. At least eight people and countless animals were killed. Villages and seaside resorts had to be evacuated, as some people fled to the beaches to be rescued by the sea. Forest fires also threatened two coal-fired power stations.

The Turkish government has promised to rebuild the many burned houses and compensate the villagers for their animals, as well as provide other aid. But it has also been criticized for its lack of firefighting planes, poor planning, and overall inability to stop the fires.

Samil Tuncay Bestoy, who heads the Association for the Protection of the Environment and Bee, said hundreds of thousands of beehives have been saved by a calendar accident alone. Many nomadic beekeepers, including some from Mugla, move their hives to the high interior plains of Turkey every spring in the spring and come to Mugla from mid-August for the pines. These beehives were spared from the fire, but their entire production cycle was shattered.

“Now they have nowhere to return, there are no more forests,” said Bestoy, himself a beekeeper. “Bees and beekeepers wait in the plains not knowing what to do. ”

As they cannot stay in the plains for long due to their food needs, the association has tried to find healthy and temporary forest sites in Mugla, which is already heavily populated with beehives.

It’s a short-term solution to saving bees, but highlights the need for close coordination between government, beekeeper associations and beekeepers to chart the way forward. Workers may have to find new beekeeping routes or even jobs in other industries.

Even before the forest fires, Turkish beekeepers were already suffering from climate change, with droughts and high temperatures reducing pine sap and killing insects.

“Beekeeping is a fundamental culture of Anatolia, and we had already warned that we could lose it due to the climate crisis. These fires added fuel to this fire, ”Bestoy said.

Further east, the forests of the Manavgat district in Antalya were also incinerated. Beekeeper Guven Karagol had to abandon his hives once these flames got closer.

“The fires came quickly and my beehives were burning, I could only watch. Six years of my job, this year’s job, burned down, ”he told Turkish news agency IHA.

When he returned at dawn after the fires, he saw bees emerging and realized that 20 out of 100 beehives had somehow survived.

“I thought I couldn’t do this in a completely blackened nature, my hopes were shattered.” he said. “These 20 beehives gave me hope.

The Turkish government has said burnt forests will be reforested and groups have launched campaigns for saplings, but many experts say forests must be left alone to regenerate.

Medine Yilmaz, another second generation beekeeper in Osmaniye, also lost her hives and spoke to Turkish authorities who visited the area. She wanted the remaining trees to be allowed to stand to see if they could regenerate, but said authorities were planning to cut everything down.

“We got up as young people and stopped the bulldozers. If they come back, I will lie down in front of them and I will not let them cut the trees, ”she said.

Her husband, Yusuf, was devastated.

“I don’t care about houses that burned down. Our only sadness is that nature has disappeared, our only means of subsistence were these pines, ”he said. “Houses will be rebuilt, wounds healed, but nature will not heal for 70-80 years.”

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