Turkey - Environmentally, Socially and Economically Sustainable Salt Extraction in Palas lake

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A Project Worth its Salt

Here's a puzzle. Turkey doesn't allow individuals to extract salt from Lake Palas ­- one of the country's most important natural habitats for rare birds and small mammals. Nevertheless, one hundred families earn their living by doing just that, inadvertently damaging precious plant and animal life. A project aims to preserve the environment, but has no intention of stopping these families from extracting salt. Just how will it do both?

The answer: organization, regulation and education. The project organized the 100 hundred families into a cooperative, an entity that can legally extract salt. Then it created a Salt Extraction Plan to regulate when, how, and where people can go about extracting salt. Finally, it is creating a documentary film aimed at educating the locals on how to extract salt while preserving the ecosystem for rare birds and small animals that are plentiful around the lake located in Central Anatolia.

How is salt extracted? Lake Palas is a salt water body that goes dry from May-September, exposing hectares of salt that can be collected. Currently, families use wooden sleighs, shovels, and sometimes even tractors to gather the salt, before moving it to the lakeshore to dry.

All of this has deleterious consequences for the environment, harming vegetation and the ecosystems of rare birds - such as the Great Bustard, Kentish Plover, and the Ruddy Shelduck - which flock to the lake's hospitable shores.

The Salt Extraction Plan which the project has proposed reduces harm to the environment by restricting the period during which salt can be extracted, mandating what environmentally safe equipment and methods can be used to extract salt, specifying where salt can be placed for drying, and regulating the amount of salt that can be extracted in a given season.

The project, which is funded by the Small Grants Programme (SGP) of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), commenced in 2005 and will end in February 2007 with a budget of $32,000. It is being implemented by the National Society for the Conservation and Documentation of Nature, a small outfit that is located near the lake and enjoys the trust of the families

involved in salt extraction. Currently, the families are ready to form a cooperative, but everyone is waiting to hear whether the government will approve the Salt Extraction Plan. The longevity of the Lake Palas ecosystem depends on it.


Environmentally, Socially and Economically Sustainable Salt Extraction in Palas Lake
Environmentally, Socially and Economically Sustainable Salt Extraction in Palas Lake

Focus Areas

Geographic Scope

Turkey, Central Anatolia, Kayseri, (Tuzla) Palas Lake. Photo by Serkan Yılmaz
Turkey, Central Anatolia, Kayseri, (Tuzla) Palas Lake. Photo by Serkan Yılmaz


UNDP is providing support to this particular project through the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), that it implements on behalf of all three GEF Implementing Agencies, i.e. UNDP, UNEP and WB. With its commitment to the conservation of the global environment and its direct support to implementation of the SGP, UNDP contributes to the achievement of MDG7, the sustainable development objective of the Millennium Summit. Established in 1992, SGP embodies the very essence of sustainable development. SGP channels financial and technical support directly to NGOs and CBOs for activities that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people's well-being and livelihoods.

SGP aims to develop effective and replicable community level strategies and implement technologies that reduce threats against the global environment, gather lessons from community-level experience and initiate the dissemination of successful strategies as well as lessons learned, in a participatory manner involving all stakeholders for an effort to support and strengthen the capacities to address global environmental problems and to promote sustainable development.

With this particular project, SGP tries to support a local initiative aiming to demonstrate a nature-friendly way of extracting the lake salt in Palas Tuzla area, which would in the longer term enable an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable income source for the local people.

The National Society for the Conservation and Documentation of Nature is providing all the local and national coordination necessary for the implementation of the project. During the monitoring process of the project, they review, evaluate and update the “environment friendly salt extraction plan” with the participation of the local stakeholders. The members of the society are bird watching enthusiasts and have been actively involved in the monitoring of the flora around Palas Lake for 4 years. With their 2003 work, Bird Atlas, the Society has gathered substantial information on bird species in the region and their habitats. Project team members, have satisfactory information on salt extraction areas and techniques thanks to a previous SGP supported project of a documentary on protecting the nature in Palas Lake.


Zeynep Bilgi Bulus,


+90 312 454 11 31

National Society for the Conservation and Documentation of Nature

Address: Kılıçaslan Mah. Sivas Cad. Çağlayan Apt. No:58/2 Melikgazi / Kayseri – Türkiye

Phone and Fax: (+90) 0352 233 53 95



Background and Significance

The Challenge(Need for Action)

Palas Lake, with its wide and diverse ecosystems, hosts a rich biodiversity. Some of the endangered birds listed under the IUCN Realist or the BirdLife International’s “Species of European Conservation Concern” classification, such as the Great Bustard, Kentish Plover, Ruddy Shelduck, Spur-winged Plover and Lesser Kestrel can be seen during the migration season, and some of them even breed in the area. An endemic tulip species, Tulipa armena can be seen in the region’s northern hills. The area is also the nesting and breeding are of several mammals Allactaga williamsi, squirrels (Spermophilus xanthoprymnus), fox, wolf, Brown Hare (Lepus capensis). The fact that some of these animals are endangered or threatened increases the areas importance for wild life

Lake salt is one of the natural resources used as an income generator by the local people. Being extracted traditionally from May to mid-September, salt is an important ecosystem product. Depending on the place of extraction the salt can be used for animal feed, domestic use and for highways.

In addition to the local people that are extracting the salt as a primary mean of income, almost everyone in the region use the lake as the main source of their domestic salt needs. The salt extraction dates back to the Ottoman Empire; although these enterprises were closed with the WW1. Salt extraction between 1934-1968 has been carried out by TEKEL, but since 1968 no enterprise or corporation is extracting the salt. This unplanned extraction by the local people, lacking a sustainable approach is threatening the region’s biological diversity. Besides they aren’t aware that these extraction and storing methods may one day terminate any potential extraction.

Local people’s insistence on continuing the extraction without any organisation is raising the possibility for them to lose this economical activity. The extraction begins in late May, which corresponds to bird reproduction period. Different families use large salt collection centres along the lakeshore. While some families use traditional methods (wooden sleigh, shovel etc.), some even use heavy machines (tractor, truck etc.). This unplanned and sometimes heavily destructive extraction methods threaten the nesting and breeding habitats of animals, especially birds. Besides, the extracted salt is sporadically massed on lakeshore, above the wet grass, the halophytic vegetation and nearby the reeds. These unsustainable practices endanger the region’s biodiversity and people’s economical resources at the same time.

Goal and Objectives

Goal: Protection of the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Palas Lake Project Objective: Ensure the continuation of salt extraction and storage around Palas Lake as a sustainable economical activity based on ecological principles Outputs:

1- Organised and planned salt extraction is conducted in a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable manner

2- Salt extraction and storage activities are carried out according to the plan with a view to protect the fauna and flora, especially bird habitats

3- Local peoples and NGOs awareness and information on Palas Lake’s ecosystem’s values and its sustainable use is improved.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions


In order to ensure sustainability of extraction and storage of the salt, it is absolutely necessary to have the “conservation-utilisation” balance principles set soundly within the “Nature-friendly Salt Extraction Plan”. This very important plan was prepared during this project with extractors, local authorities, other stakeholders and consultants support. The plan strives to remove the pressure on endangered species’ habitats, wet grass, halophytic vegetation, reeds and feeding grounds of birds and mammals. With this plan, alternative extraction methods and storing places were determined.


A Commission comprised of National Society for the Conservation and Documentation of Nature, salt extractors, local authorities, consultants, the General Directorate of Mining Affairs, the General Directorate of Preservation of Cultural and Historical Heritage, Kayseri Directorate of Nature and Forestry and GEF II Sultan Sazlıgı Office is established during the project. The Commission gathered extensive information both from field studies and from stakeholder meetings and trainings which helped them to build the plan. Once the plan is approved, the local salt extractors and present or future enterprises will only be able to extract salt according to this plan. The only way to protect biological diversity and sustainability of the ecosystem lies in the applicability and proper implementation of the salt-extraction plan.


The extraction around Palas Lake has to be done in two zones. These zones are;

- First Zone; West side of the lake, a 250 m wide area following the lakeshore reaching a total 87,5 Ha area,

-Second Zone; A 250 m wide and 62,5 Ha area in the south side of the lake.


Salt Extraction Period

As salty wetlands have a crucial importance as nesting and breeding habitats of certain birds, it is necessary to wait the end of their egg laying and egg hatching period (approximately mid-June) before extraction of salt. The salt extraction should start June 1st and end on October 31st for good quality salt production and sustainability of the ecosystem.


Salt Extraction Techniques

Salt extraction in Palas Lake, due to its ecological function and the looseness of the lake bottom, should not be made by heavy machinery. As in the past, the salt extraction needs to be done with the use of manpower, the traditional technique, which is done by open top plastic barrels pulled by individuals who are wearing “helik”, a traditional footwear. The use of helik gives the extractor ability to move easily and not sink, which helps both the extractor and the ecosystem. Heliks are produced from light, usually woody materials, surround the feet but allow free movement and has the advantage of preventing sinking and slipping on the semi-dry loose land.

As per the plan, it is suggested to limit salt extraction with manpower, to several 50 m x 250 m strips from the lake coast. This would both help in the conservation of the area, and also would be beneficial to the salt-extractors as this would improve salt quality and reduce the amount of labour force needed. The salt extracted from each lot, according to the plan, can be stored in temporary storage locations within each parcel, both reducing the labour force required to carry the salt elsewhere and dry it in the immediate vicinity of point of extraction and also conserving the habitats from uncontrolled spreading of salt over them. The plan also calls for the transfer of dried salt from the temporary storage areas, through identified entry/exit points for each extraction lot, by wooden or plastic sleighs. Also, for accessing the storage areas outside of the lakefront, the plan allows the use of low-tonnage vehicles such as horse carts or tractors can be used to transport the salt along the identified routes.

Results and Impact

One of the new RAMSAR areas in Turkey, Palas Lake with its biological diversity gathering wide and distinct ecosystems, is one of the most important natural habitats in Turkey. Lake salt is a crucial ecosystem product used by the local people as an income source. During the summer, with the decrease of rainfall and the increased evaporation, the lake area shrinks, and the semi-dry salt settles at the coasts of the shrunken lake. The extracted salt is spread around the coast of the lake for further drying and is a major threat to the nesting and breeding areas of endangered mammals such as Allactaga williamsi and Spermophilus xanthoprymnus or several birds including Kentish Plover, Ruddy Shelduck, Spur-winged Plover and Black-winged Stilt.

The traditional extraction methods used in the area are unplanned and not necessarily taking into account their potential adverse affects on the local biodiversity. The local people are not aware this practice is unsustainable and that one day they might no longer be able to extract salt.

A nature friendly salt extraction considers the potential effects of methods used on the biodiversity around the lake. Taking environmental factors into consideration, it is evident that the local biodiversity as well as the salt being an ecosystem service itself, would not be able to continue their existence if there aren’t any precautions taken. There is no doubt that the area is very fragile and is very much affected by the changes in its surroundings. The project aims to convert current salt extraction and storage methods that endanger habitats of birds, mammals and plants to environmentally sustainable and nature-friendly methods which would also enable the continuation of salt as a reliable income source for the locals.

Lessons for Replication

The project is not completed yet, therefore a specific document gathering the Lessons Learned have not been prepared. But the documentary that is being prepared by the project team will be a very important tool in the demonstration of the methods used for the persuasion of the local people to change to a new modality of salt extraction other than the one they are using currently.

Main Results

With this project, for the first time in Turkey a salt extraction plan for the protection of biodiversity and the sustainable use of salt is prepared. This “Nature-friendly Salt Extraction Plan” is going to be implemented by the local people and potential salt-extracting enterprises that would work in the area.

The (multi-stakeholder) Commission established through the project, aims to continue the monitoring the plan and the inspection and monitoring of the activities in the area during and following the implementation phase.

The project also entails a series of awareness raising activities, one of which is the preparation of a documentary film. The film is targeted both to the local people and towards the environmental NGOs in the area, which will provide information regarding Palas Lake’s ecosystem values and the importance of its sustainable use with suggestions as to how that can be achieved. This film would also convey the “conservation – utilisation balance” concept regarding other natural resources and the establishment of nature-friendly planning for their use.

Outlook (Conclusions and Next Steps)

The “Nature-friendly Salt Extraction Plan” will be submitted to the Local and National Wetlands Commission for their review and eventual approval.

The documentary will be completed and disseminated to stakeholders. Also the film will be showed to the locals by the project team.

A wall calendar explaining the principles of the nature-friendly salt extraction and the details of the plan will be prepared and distributed to the local people.

With a group of local extractors and representatives from local authorities, visits will be organised to best practices or positive experiences in other regions.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

Timeframe & Status

06–2004 / 03–2007


See also

Water Knowledge Fair 2006

External Resources

Interviewees and Key Contacts

Mr. Serkan Yılmaz

National Society for the Conservation and Documentation of Nature


Phone: +90 352 233 53 95

Mr. Orhan Ceylan

Kayseri Directorate of Environment and Forestry


Phone: +90 352 221 14 72

Mr. Nusret Bey

Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, General Directorate of Mining Affairs

Phone: +90 312 222 02 94

Mr. İbrahim Koçer

Palas County / Salt extractor

Phone: +90 537 852 05 12

Mr. Cem Vural

Erciyes University, Department of Biology


Phone: +90 533 361 92 87


 Turkey salt extraction.doc  Palas Lake Nature-friendly Salt Extraction Plan.doc

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