We recently blogged about the devastation caused by the wildfires in Turkey in July, and how beekeepers there have lost their livelihoods and their bees. But worse, their pine forests were lost, and they take decades to grow back and mature.
Early September on Turkey's west coast is usually busy for beekeepers, but not this year. It is when the first harvest of their famous pine honey happens and beehives are moved from the higher plains inland to the forests near the coasts.
This year, centuries old pine trees were destroyed by wildfires, and vast areas of Turkey's pine forests were wiped out. An entire industry, as well as a rich cultural tradition and part of Turkey’s heritage, was decimated. It is bringing pressure to President Erdogan and his political party, long accused of preferring vast development projects over conserving the natural environment.
In just two weeks the fires destroyed 160,000 hectares of forest and killed eight people. The government was criticized for their poor response as blazes raged through coastal towns, destroying homes. They promise to help rebuild but it is less likely they will replant the pine trees that are essential to bees to produce the world-renowned pine honey. Over 90% of global pine honey was from Turkey and most was produced in Mugla province in the southwest.
The damaged red pine tree forests stretch from the eastern Mediterranean coast to the northern Aegean Sea. In autumn, beekeepers placed about 3.5 million hives in the province's forests. Two and a half million hives came from outside Mugla. The loss of 66,000 hectares of forest put an abrupt end to honey production in Mugla.
This 0:42-second video by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations from just one year ago shows what Turkey's pine honey industry was like recently until it all went up in smoke:
The quality of honey relies on the Marchalina hellenica insects that consume tree sap. Bees collect the insects' secretions and take the honeydew to their hives to make honey.
Up to 10,000 beekeepers harvested over 20,000 tons of Mugla honey, but now their livelihood is gone. It will take decades for new trees to mature enough to be inhabited by the M hellenica insects.
Mugla is not the only affected area. Towns like Osmaniye, Bayir and Turgut, where honey is one of their main industries, suffered a similar fate.
The Forestry Ministry has disbursed funds to beekeepers to help them survive, but head of the Environment and Bee Protection Association, Samil Tuncay Bestoy, believes the future looks bleak and it will be very hard to keep the bee colonies alive.
Huseyin Sengul, president of the Izmir Beekeeping Association, says it will take 50 years for Turkey's pine tree honey to return to previous standards. Ecologists with forest management experience are needed to help the trees regrow. The government response to the fires shows unwillingness to listen to experts.
In 2020, Turkey placed as second largest global honey producer on the list for producing over 110,000 metric tons. The fires will drop their rank.
Residents of Mugla are concerned that the government may take advantage of the fires to open a series of mines in the region. Mining licenses were granted in 2018 for large areas of what was forest—a greater threat to the ecosystem than the summer fires. Such a move fits with Erdogan's track record of large projects that ignore the environment.
Recently, the president has pushed plans for a canal linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, despite fears that it will have widespread environmental consequences.
The return of bees to Turkey's charred forests is essential to rebuild the ecosystem. But nobody knows if the area can recover to the way it was, without proper oversight. Ecological renewal prospects are grim in the near future, as decision-makers dismiss expert advice.