By Mert Ozkan

Thousands of baby flamingos have died at Turkey’s Lake Tuz in the past two weeks from a drought that environmentalists said was the result of climate change and agricultural irrigation methods. Drone footage of the large saline lake in Turkey’s central province of Konya showed dead flaminglets lying partially buried in dried mud. Lake Tuz is home to a flamingo colony where up to 10,000 flaminglets are born every year.

Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli said around 1,000 birds were thought to have died but denied that agriculture was to blame.

“With less water and increased concentration ratio in the water, we observed deaths of flaminglets that were unable to fly,” he said.

“I want to stress that there is no direct or indirect connection between this incident and the wells in the area or the agricultural irrigation.”

Pakdemirli said “the necessary measures” had been taken, without elaborating.

In 2000, Lake Tuz was declared a specially protected area, a designation that aims to protect biological diversity, natural and cultural resources.

Environmentalists blame farming practices along with climate change for the drought, which saw demand for water in the area outstrip supply by 30 percent last year, according to a report published by Turkish environmental foundation TEMA.

In 2020, the annual water reserve in central province of Konya’s close basin was 4.5 billion cubic meters, while the consumption reached 6.5 billion cubic meters, TEMA found.

Environmentalist and wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc said water supplies from a canal which feeds Lake Tuz were being redirected for farming.

“This is the irrigation canal that comes from Konya. It needs to deliver water to Lake Tuz. As you can see, the water is not coming through. It stopped,” environmentalist and wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc said.

Tunc said only 5,000 eggs had hatched in the colony this year and most of the chicks had died for lack of water on the partially dried lake.

“It is a sin we are all committing,” Tunc said.

President of the Turkish NGO the Nature Association Dicle Tuba Kilic said the only way to prevent mass flamingo deaths is to change the agricultural irrigation methods in region.

Lake Tuz (Salt Lake) is one of the largest hypersaline lakes in the world.