Istanbul fights water pollution from skies

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The Istanbul Municipality is literally watching over the megacity’s water resources to make sure they are clean and safe for its more than 15 million residents.

The municipality has leased two planes to carry out air control missions over the Marmara Sea and the drinking water basins operated by the Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (İSKİ).

The planes take to the skies every morning over the city—when whether conditions allow—and warn ships cruising below not to pollute the city’s sea.

The planes that were put in service in July this year fly over the shores of the Marmara and Black Sea and the two sides (Asian and European) of Istanbul to spot any possible pollution. Since July, the planes have flown missions over 100 hours. During those missions, aerial pictures are taken and the polluters, when spotted, are fined based on those images.

Over the past three months, a total of 56 vessels have been fined 1.4 million Turkish Liras ($229,000).

“Despite all our efforts, the sea and drinking water basins still become polluted due to external factors,” Istanbul Mayor Mevlüt Uysal told state-run Anadolu Agency.

“Large ships and vessels passing through the strait are polluting the waters. We fly those planes over the city to monitor those external factors. ‘Let them first commit crimes, then we can act to fine them.’ No, that is not the purpose of aerial control. The bottom line is to prevent pollution before it happens,” Uysal said.

He noted that the municipality also has its own three vessels, five drones and 50 environmental engineers that take part in those operations.

“The planes take aerial images of possible pollution spots, then our vessels arrive at the scene to collect samples. That way, we can identify the vessels and factories that pollute the environment,” said the Istanbul mayor.

“Vessels are warned about pollution. ‘You are being watched, please do not dump your dirty water into the sea,’ that is what we tell them. I believe this has been pretty effective,” Uysal said.

He noted that their actions against polluters not only take the form of issuing fines.

“If we discover hazardous waste is coming from a factory, we ask the owner to install a treatment facility,” said the mayor.

The municipalities of the western provinces of Bursa and Kocaeli have also teamed up with Istanbul’s local government to fight pollution, according to Uysal, who noted that other provinces located along the Marmara Sea will join them.

“Those inspections and measures have reduced pollution but still some vessels and factories infest the sea and rivers but those polluters are fined,” he added.

“If we protect the sea, we can protect our city and our future. We have to work together on this,” Uysal said.

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