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Nat Geo Biologist Named Turkey’s Scientist of the Year

National Geographic grantee Cagan Sekercioglu has been named Scientist of the Year by a consortium of media in Turkey. The honor caps a year of achievement for the biologist, who is both on the faculty at the University of Utah and a doçent, the equivalent of associate professor, in Turkey. Earlier in 2010, Sekercioglu was...

National Geographic grantee Cagan Sekercioglu has been named Scientist of the Year by a consortium of media in Turkey.

The honor caps a year of achievement for the biologist, who is both on the faculty at the University of Utah and a doçent, the equivalent of associate professor, in Turkey.

Earlier in 2010, Sekercioglu was included on the Thomson Reuters Web of Science Essential Science Indicators list of top 1 percent most cited scientists in the world in ecology and environmental science in the past decade.

The Essential Science Indicators threshold for citations received in the Science Citation Index from 2000 to 2010 is 433, and Sekercioglu has 647 citations. “This means my conservation and ecology publications are being cited widely and making an impact in the field. Among my most cited papers is the Costa Rica radio-tracking paper supported by National Geographic,” he explained in an email.

Video about Cagan Sekercioglu’s National Geographic-supported project in Costa Rica by National Geographic Wild Chronicles.

One of Sekercioglu’s proudest achievements–which concidentally also won him recognition from the British royal family in 2010– is the KuzeyDoğa Society, a nonprofit he started and directs to promote community-based conservation, biodiversity research, environmental education, ecological restoration, and ecotourism in Turkey.

“What is most important for me is that so far I have managed to balance a decent academic career in conservation science with directing KuzeyDoğa to conduct grassroots conservation in eastern Turkey. Many conservation scientists these days churn out one good paper after another, but not enough are working with local communities to put their good thinking into practice. This is not a criticism, because they are tracking huge problems … but clearly, more grassroots conservation needs to be done,” Sekercioglu said.

Sekercioglu, until recently a senior research scientist at the Stanford University Center for Conservation Biology, traveled to London in July to be a guest at a Buckingham Palace garden party to celebrate the 60th birthday of Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter.

The royal invitation was in recognition of his success in 2008 when he was named the winner of the Whitley Gold Award for his work at Lake Kuyucuk of eastern Turkey to promote community-based conservation, biodiversity research, ecological restoration, and ecotourism at the lake and in the region. (Watch the video below.)

Kuyucuk was recognized by the Whitley Fund for Nature in 2008 when it received the Whitley Golden Award. Sir David Attenborough talks about Kuyucuk in the video above.

The Whitley Gold Award is the highest accolade given by the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), of which Princess Anne is the patron, under the annual international grants scheme it runs for individuals who are using conservation science to improve biodiversity and people’s lives and livelihoods.

Sekercioglu Whitley Gold Odulunu Alirken.jpg

Princess Anne presents the Whitley Award to Cagan Sekercioglu, May 2008. He received the prize in recognition of his efforts to involve local people in reducing overgrazing, ending hawk poaching and encouraging wildlife tourism in a bird-rich wetland in a region of eastern Turkey made famous by Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow.

Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature

WFN Director, Georgina Domberger, explained: “The Princess Royal takes a very keen interest in the work of the Whitley Fund for Nature and always attends our annual awards ceremony, to meet the finalists and present the top award, the Whitley Gold Award. Even so, we were absolutely delighted when Buckingham Palace contacted us to say that The Princess wanted to add a delegation of past Whitley Gold Award winners to the guest list for her 60th birthday garden party and were equally delighted that Dr. Cagan Hakki Sekercioglu was able to accept.

Cagan Sekercioglu.jpg

“It’s a rare honor to be asked to a garden party at Buckingham Palace — and very memorable. Guests are able to use the grand entrance that is familiar to many millions worldwide from photographs and newsreel of State occasions but also get to view parts of the palace which are seldom seen by outsiders,” Domberger said.

In addition to attending the garden party, Sekercioglu also took part in a symposium about the future of nature conservation while in London. For her birthday present, Sekercioglu gave Princess Anne a hand-made wood carving of a ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), which is the flagship species at Lake Kuyucuk of Kars, he said.

Cagan Sekercioglu with duck carving he presented to Pricess Anne at Buckingham Palace, July 2010.

Photo courtesy of Whitley Fund for Nature

“It is hard to put in words the honor I feel to be invited by Her Excellency to her 60th birthday party at the Buckingham Palace,” Sekercioglu said. “It is a very special occasion and it will further publicize and help our conservation efforts in Turkey. Her giving us the Whitley Gold Award two years ago was a turning point for our conservation work in eastern Turkey. The financial support was life-saving, but more importantly, the award and the photo of HRH Princess Anne presenting the award substantially raised the profile of our environmental organization KuzeyDoğa Society. Prof. Dr. Abdullah Gül, the president of Turkey, personally congratulated our efforts, and the resulting publicity accelerated the bureaucratic process to improve the lake’s conservation status.”

Following KuzeyDoğa Society‘s petitionin 2009 Lake Kuyucuk became Turkey’s 13th, and Eastern Anatolia’s first, Ramsar wetland, the only one in an area the size of Montana or Germany. The Ramsar designation requires that Lake Kuyucuk has a management plan to ensure the lake’s future conservation. Funded by the Turkish government, the Lake Kuyucuk management plan was prepared in 2010 using the ornithological data collected by KuzeyDoğa, revised based on Sekercioglu’s recommendations, and approved on December 28, 2010.

Lake Kuyucuk restoration culminated in the construction of Turkey’s first bird nesting island, which made it Turkey’s largest wetland restoration project. The dirt road that bisected Lake Kuyucuk was converted to an island on which birds can roost and breed safely. After KuzeyDoğa Society’s application, Lake Kuyucuk was also chosen Turkey’s 2009 European Destination of Excellence (EDEN), recognized as a sustainable, low-impact tourism destination that is now promoted throughout Europe. On the 219 hectare lake, Sekercioglu’s team has so far documented 220 bird species–48 percent of all bird species recorded in Turkey. He thinks that if they can continue their long-term research, the Kuyucuk Lake bird list will eventually exceed 250 species.

Related Nat Geo News Watch post:

Turkey’s First Island Sanctuary for Birds Is Built From an Old Dirt Road 

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

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