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Floods in Turkey: Nat Geo Scientist’s Eyewitness Account

National Geographic grantee Cagan H. Sekercioglu was in Istanbul this week to witness the heaviest one-day rainfall in the capital of Turkey in 80 years–more than seven inches in 24 hours.

He posted an account of the experience and the floods, and the reasons why it was such a disaster, on iReport, a user-generated news site. It is republished here. The video is an Al Jazeera account of the disaster posted on YouTube.


Debris and damaged vehicles are seen after flash floods in Ikitelli, Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009. Flash floods gushed across a major highway and a commercial district in Istanbul, killing 20 people and stranding dozens in cars on rooftops, the city’s governor said. As waters rose more than a meter (3 feet) high in the city’s Ikitelli district, motorists climbed on roofs of their vehicles waiting to be rescued. The floods occurred in the early hours as people began making their way to work, washing over a main road linking the city to an industrial area, an airport and a highway to Greece and Bulgaria.(AP Photo/Ibrahim Usta)

Revenge of the Ayamama: the Istanbul Flood

By Cagan H. Sekercioglu

Istanbul, Turkey–I am a Turkish ecologist, ornithologist, and conservation biologist at Stanford University Center for Conservation Biology. I am in Istanbul, on my way to our wetland and bird conservation project in Kars, eastern Turkey. [Read about this project in an earlier NatGeo News Watch entry: Turkey’s First Island Sanctuary for Birds Is Built From an Old Dirt Road.]

My parents live 300 meters [330 yards] away from the Ayamama Stream, which flooded parts of Istanbul today.

A lot of people got affected because buildings and roads were built in or near the stream bed, which was flooded.

Where my parents live, in Atakoy, there are no apartment buildings near the stream, just hobby gardens and a construction zone. I watch birds along the stream regularly and was last there only two days ago.

The stream is extremely polluted, carrying all the industrial waste and sewage of the part of Istanbul that got flooded. Still, there are 3-meter-tall reedbeds along the stream and I recorded 31 bird species so far.

Before it got polluted and industrialized, this stream and surrounding habitats would have supported over 150 bird species, especially during migration.

“The bridge I normally walk across had disappeared under reeds and trash.”

I went back today at 3 p.m. and it was quite a sight. The bridge I normally walk across had disappeared under reeds and trash. The stream had risen three meters and construction workers told me in the morning it was five meters above normal and had flooded their sheds.

Ayamama Stream was full of garbage and mud, and a TV set floated past me. The reeds were almost completely covered by water. The reeds you see on the right side of the photos [see photos here] normally form the left border of the stream.

Still, no buildings got flooded in Atakoy and nobody got hurt because there were no houses near the stream, mostly green space, construction and hobby gardens.

Video by Al Jazeera

Many watersheds in Istanbul have been built over, often illegally, and this is what happens every a few decades.

Yesterday, Istanbul received the highest daily rainfall of the last 80 years.

In Ikitelli district, ground zero, 181 millimeters/m2 of rain fell in the past 24 hours. That equals 7.24 inches, about the rainfall Phoenix, Arizona gets in an entire year.

Most loss of lives and property happened because of illegal, unplanned construction in stream beds and watersheds.

Where there was no such construction, like in Atakoy, Ayamama stream rose five meters but no one got hurt.

All these polluted streams in Istanbul need to be cleaned and turned into green spaces for the public to enjoy.

On the other hand, Atakoy itself is built upon former wetlands and is on soft ground. It is prone to earthquakes and flooding is not out of question in the future.

Cagan H. Sekercioglu is an ecologist, ornithologist and conservation biologist at Stanford University Center for Conservation Biology. His first grant from the National Geographic Committee For Research and Exploration was in 2004. His most recent grant in 2008 supports a project in Costa Rica, where he is studying what happens to birds after they leave the nest and before they become independent. Tropical songbirds in the area are on the decline, and Sekercioglu hopes to learn whether their dwindling population is mainly tied to mortality during the fledgling period of their lives.

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