Şahika Ercümen, Türkiye’s world-record-holding free-diving champion and U.N. “life below water advocate” embarked Sunday on dive in the country’s largest lake, Lake Van to raise awareness about the pollution in blue waters ahead of the World Environment Day.
Ercümen, Türkiye’s advocate of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) program for the conservation of life in wetlands and the Zero Waste Project blue ambassador also observed the unique upstream journey of pearl mullets from the highly carbonated waters of the lake, into the freshwater of the stream.
The prominent diver in her interview with Anadolu Agency (AA) recalled her long-standing connection with Lake Van, whose beauties she used to promote through diving. It is also the place she broke the world diving record a decade ago.
Stating that she continuously visits Lake Van as part of water sports and environmental protection activities, Ercümen said: “Lake Van is the largest soda lake in the world. The locals call it the ‘Van sea.’ It is truly a vast sea, its depth is 400 meters (1,312.34 feet). Therefore, it holds numerous natural messages and wonders.”
With the support of the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, Ercümen highlighted her role in contributing to scientific research during this World Environment Day, marked June 5.
‘Fight against pollution’
Emphasizing that the efforts of first lady Emine Erdoğan in the preparation of the Van Lake Basin Protection Action Plan and Implementation Program are very valuable, Ercümen said: “This plan is promising because while Lake Van is home to many endemic creatures, thousands of people live in its surrounding. The efforts made in the form of bottom cleaning, protection and antipollution efforts are very valuable.”
Lake Van has been registered as a “naturally protected, sustainable conservation and controlled area” since last year, which is seen as a significant move that will contribute to the better protection of the basin.
To prevent pollution draining into the lake encompassing an area of 3,713 square kilometers (1,434 square miles), and to keep it cleaner for future generations, the government and local organizations have rolled up their sleeves in recent years.
According to the statement by Van Municipality on Friday, the second and third stages of the project conducted for the bottom sludge removal between Van’s Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi (YYU) and 15 July Park Port and between the Yaşar Kemal Park and Ipekyolu district are in the works, while the first stage of the project focusing on mud removal on the Tusba coast has been completed last year.
The Environmental Protection and Control Department led a coordinated effort to clean up 1 million cubic meters (mcm) of mud and bottom sediment.
This undertaking involved the utilization of 75 construction machines and a team of 80 personnel, AA reported.
Highlighting the pearl mullets as just one of the natural beauties worth seeing and protecting, Ercümen stressed that many water sources and lakes in Türkiye and worldwide stand at risk of extinction due to drought and increasing pollution.
“By protecting Lake Van, we will not allow this. I hope this conservation work will continue much more efficiently,” she said.
Stating that important cleaning works have been undertaken in the lake, although immediate results may not be apparent, Ercümen opined that these cleaning works are a very good starting point.
She also noted that a variety of pollutants has been thrown into the waters over the years and said that the cleansing process often reveals unexpected items.
Reflecting on her world record achievement in 2013, Ercümen recalls the existence of a diving school in the Lake Van area during those years.
Touching upon Lake Van’s unique and distinctive features she said that the marine deposits known as “Van Lake corals,” have been observed as well as the discovery of a new species of coral fish alongside these sediments.
“Furthermore, Lake Van is one of the highest-altitude lakes globally, making dives in this location valuable for professional diving training,” she concluded.