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Kızılırmak Delta Wetland and Bird Sanctuary

Date of Submission: 13/04/2016
Criteria: (vii)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
OndokuzMayıs, Bafra, Alaçam Districts, Samsun Province, Middle Black Sea Region
Coordinates: N41 40 E36 05
Ref.: 6125

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Kızılırmak (River) is the longest river that rises from and also flows into the territories of Turkey, and also that has the second biggest drainage basin of Turkey. Kızılırmak passes through Sivas, Kayseri, Nevşehir, Kırşehir, Kırıkkale, Çankırı, Çorum and Samsun Provinces in Middle and North Anatolia; flows into the Black Sea, covering a distance of 1.355 km Kızılırmak forms South Black Sea Basin’s the most important delta and wetland ecosystem, by its alluvial deposit.

Kızılırmak Delta extends along the the north of Samsun-Sinop Highway, within the borders of Ondokuzmayıs, Bafra and Alaçam Districts of Samsun Province, flowing into the Black Sea. Its distance to Samsun City Center is about 40 km and its size is 56.000 ha. The delta is a big wetland complex that contains almost all members of wetland ecosystems. The major habitats of this complex are flooded forests, trees and shrubs, sweet and bitter lakes, reeds, pastures, sand dunes, sea and farmlands.

21.700 ha of delta lands are composed of wetland ecosystems; natural and semi-natural areas where the habitats associated with these systems. 11.580 ha of these habitats are composed of open water surfaces, freshwater and saltwater marshes, wet meadows and pastures.The sands and coastal dunes, with a size of 2.330 ha, draw attention as one of the characteristic formations in Delta. The average height of sand dunes along the coast, with 200-300 meter strips, reaches 7-8 meters, and in some places 12 meters. Of 3.100 hectares of forest areas, 1.850 hectares are flooded forests and 1.250 hectares are broad-leaved forests.

Kızılırmak Delta is an old quaternary plain, with a low slope, consisted of gravel, sand and silt. The plain rises in steps from an alluvial plain tracing the sea towards south. The southern border of the delta is formed by rocks during Neogene and before (Upper Cretaceous flysch, Eocene flysch and ebonite, Miocene and Pliocene old sediments of lagoons and rivers). While the large part of delta land is hydromorphic soil, we can see the coastal dunes at the seaside; brown forests, colluvial and alluvial soil in the inland. This land is regarded as one of the richest plains in Turkey with its high agricultural potential. More than half of the delta lands (37.590 hectares), in which 32 villages earn livelihood from agriculture, are used as farmlands. The most important product grown in Kızılırmak Delta lands containing alkali and rich organic substances is paddy (rice). The other important agricultural products grown in delta lands are corn, wheat, sunflower, potato, alfalfa, beans, sugar beet, cabbage, lettuce, tomato, melon, and onion. Almost in all sloping delta lands, tobacco agriculture is done; a slight pomiculture such as apple, peach, chestnut and plum growing can be seen. Also in recent years, the importance of greenhouse cultivation increases. In Kızılırmak Delta where the country’s largest buffalo population lives, other economic activities such as cattle and sheep farming, reed cutting, fishing and hunting, grow attention.

The natural conditions in the western and eastern coasts, caused to form more than 20 lakes with different sizes, throughout Kızılırmak Delta. Of these lakes, Bafra Balık Lakes whose surface areas rise up to 9.250 hectares during rainy seasons are regarded among the most important lagoons of Turkey. Ulu Lake, Uzun Lake, Gıcı Lake, Tatlı Lake, Balık Lake, Altınlı Lake, Cernek Lake, Liman Lake at the east coast; Karaboğaz Lake at the west coast; form the major lakes of Kızılırmak Delta. Different habitats existing together, such as sea, rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps, meadows, pastures, forests, dunes and agricultural areas; provides for delta a rare biological diversity.

Until today, 561 plant species have been determined in Kızılırmak Delta habitats with different ecological character. This value corresponds to half of the families and one sixth of the species, determined in Turkey. In Turkey, Kızılırmak Delta is one of the few habitats of Jurinea kilaea and sea aster (Tripolium pannonicum); seen in Turkey and Bulgaria coasts (the majority of its population is located in Turkey). Similarly, Kızılırmak Delta is the second locality in Turkey for Rhaponticum serratuloides, (Periploca graeca L. var. vestita Rohlena) and Ambrosia elatior species. Kızılırmak Delta is vital for 18 taxons consisted of narrowly distributed and rare species. Jurinea Kilaea, Sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum), Loddon lily (Leucojum aestivum), Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), Ambrosia maritima, Rize snowdrop (Galanthus rizehensis) are considered endangered species at national level. Linaria corifolia is also an endemic species seen in Delta meadows. Ambrosia elatior, Schoenoplectus triqueter, Stachys maritime, Tournefortia sibirica, Blue lettuce (Lactuca tatarica) can be shown as examples for other narrowly distributed species in Delta. While Galeriç Flooded Forest in Delta, equivalent to flooded-underwater Mangrove forests in the Tropics; has the title of 2nd biggest flooded forest of South Black Sea Basin; it is also accepted as one of the most important heron and stork breeding areas of South Black Sea Basin. Kızılırmak Delta, with all its features, with its rare and endangered plant species, is recognized as Important Plant Area.

Until today, 29 fish species belonging to 11 families in delta have been determined. Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), Fringebartel sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris), Stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus), European sea sturgeon (Acipenser sturio), Beluga (Huso huso), Eel (Anguilla anguilla) and Kızılırmak toothcarp (Aphanius danfordii) are recognized as critically endangered (CR) species; Crimean barbel (Barbus tauricus) and Common carp (Cyprinus carpio) as vulnerable (VU) species. In addition, Kızılırmak toothcarp (Aphanius danfordii) draws attention as an endemic species particular to Turkey.

The rich flora of Delta also enables the development of the fauna, particularly for the amphibians which are species dependent on water; a good nutritional environment is formed throughout the year, for reptiles, birda and herbivorous mammals. In Kızılırmak Delta, Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca) is considered as vulnerable (VU) and European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) as near-threatened (NT) species. Among mammals, Marbled polecat (Vormela peregusa), Geoffroy’s bat (Myotis emarginatus), European otter (Lutra lutra) are considered as vulnerable (VU); Blasius’ horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus blasii) as near-threatened (NT) species. Kızılırmak Delta, which has approximately 10% of the buffalo presence in Turkey, has the largest buffalo population of Anatolia. Buffalos that have an importance in the region’s economy are one of the most important pieces of the wetland ecosystem, critical for the rangeland vegetation, lake sedimentation, existence of bird and fish species.

Kızılırmak Delta has 40% of 1.100 bird species in West Palearctic Region. While the existence of 483 bird species is recorded in Turkey; three quarters of them, 352 bird species are also observed in Kızılırmak Delta. This number is so far the highest value determined in South Black Sea Basin in this specific area. Famous for hosting rare species in the world and the number of birds with passerines passing over the delta, reaching a few millions; Kızılırmak Delta is also known as “Bird Sanctuary”. It is identified that lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), Arctic warbler (Phylloscopus borealis), Black warbler (Phylloscopus fuscus) and Black-throated accentor (Prunella Atrogularis) only exist in Kızılırmak Delta in Turkey. In Kızılırmak Delta, 27 bird species that are endangered on a global scale are determined. White-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) that is an endangered and rare species; Purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio) -its biggest population is hosted by Delta- that can be only seen in few countries and that can breed in limited areas in Anatolia, Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), Krüper’s nuthatch (Sitta krueperi), Red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis), Velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca), Eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca), Red kite (Milvus milvus), Ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca), Great bustard (Otis tarda), Roller (Carassius garrulous), Aquatic warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola), Semicollared flycatcher (Ficedula semitorquata), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), Little bustard (Tetrax tetrax), Black-winged pratincole (Glareola nordmanni), Marbled duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris), Sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarious), Great snipe (Gallinula media) and Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) are among endangered species on a global scale, that exist in Delta. Grebe, cormorant, pelican, swan, goose, duck, ringed plover, coot, gallinule, gull and common tern are the species considered important on a global scale, among species that winter in Delta during migration. Also, in Delta during migration, it is known that there are significant numbers of crane, lesser spotted eagle, glossy ibis, stork, black kite, honey buzzard, black-tailed godwit and ruff species; that purple gallinules form large groups in paddy and reed fields. In addition, it is known that Kızılırmak Delta is the place where the largest population of gadwall and red-crested pochard winter. Kızılırmak Delta is the place where 8 sub-species of Yellow wagtails (Motacilla flava) have been recorded during migration: Western yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava (M.f.) beema), Eastern yellow wagtail (M.f. dombrowski), Black-headed wagtail (M.f. feldegg), Yellow wagtail (M.f. flava), Yellow-headed wagtail (M.f. lutea), white-chinned wagtail (M.f. melanogrisea), eye-browed wagtail (M.f. superciliaris), grey-headed wagtail (M.f. thunbergi). With all these features, Delta is one the world’s rarest Important Bird Areas.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Kızılırmak Delta is the biggest and most important wetland ecosystem of South Black Sea Basin, for representing habitat species specific to Black Sea in the best possible way and for having flora and fauna fatures that can sustain ecologic and genetic species.Kızılırmak Delta that has been included since 1998 in Ramsar Convention List that has the aim of conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands meets its 8 criteria out of 9.

While Kızılırmak Delta hosts rare or endangered bird species, it has also a big importance for the bird species that directly pass over Black Sea in West Palearctic Region. Delta is the most important place for the bird species in terms of feeding, sheltering and breeding at both spring and autumn. In autumn, birds can take shelter when they consume all their energy, become exhausted and pass the winters comfortably, passing over Black Sea. In spring, birds that return to their nests, can rest and regain their energy before their challenging journey. It is seen that crowded water bird groups spend the winter in Delta, due to its temperate climate, rich food and sheltered area. The value of 150-200 thousand obtained in midwinter waterfowls’ count, conducted in January and February, reveals the importance of the area for waterfowls and raises the area to the class of Important Bird Area that has international standards. Kızılırmak Delta is one of the most important area of South Black Sea Basin and one of the most special areas of West Palearctic Region and the world for the wintering waterfowls.

Criterion (vii):
Kızılırmak Delta has a richer diversity compared to other wetlands that have the same conditions, with a high potential of aquatic organisms’ diversity, -attached algae, zooplankton and benthic organisms- and with all its flora and fauna. Also, it creates an ecological union with an important food chain from phytoplankton to the people. The habitats of Kızılırmak Delta that are sea, river, lake, marsh, swamp, meadow, pasture, forest and sand dunes; and the presence of habitats with different ecological characters and in terms of biodiversity, help Delta achieve rarely seen properties; turn it merely into a visual feast offered by nature.In addition to rare bird species that can be met, the area in which many different images and landscapes form and also that harmonizes with the weather and the color of sky; with its very colorful nature, it draws considerable attention of nature lovers who want to immortalize the moment by taking pictures of the same habitat in many different colors and appearances. Especially during the migration period, the visitor center and the bird watching house, creates an unforgettable moment to nature and bird lovers; offers an opportunity of watching a non recurring masterpiece in which all components of a protected natural texture star, in company with a unique visual feast.

Criterion (x): Kızılırmak Delta is one of the 422 Important Bird Areas that are accepted under threat worldwide. According to Bern Convention criteria, among main habitat types which are under threat, auxin salt marshes, South Black Sea fixed dunes, South East European ash, oak and alder forests still exist in Delta. Delta is among the world’s rare wetlands with its various habitats and rich biodiversity.

Until today, in delta, 213 species of freshwater algae, 48 species of zooplankton, 35 species of benthic organisms, 561 species of plants; 29 species of fishes, 9 species of amphibians, 12 species of reptiles, 34 species of mammals and 352 species of birds have been determined. Delta hosts a large number of vulnerable and endangered plants and animals such as Rhaponticum serratuloides, Ambrosia maritima, Sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum), Jurinea kilaea, Rize snowdrop (Galanthus rizehensis), Loddon lily (Leucojum aestivum), Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), Eel (Anguilla anguilla), Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), Fringebarbel sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris), Stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus), European sea sturgeon (Acipenser sturio), Beluga (Huso huso), Kızılırmak toothcarp (Aphanius danfordii), Crimean barbel (Barbus tauricus), Carp (Cyprinus carpio), Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca), European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), Marbled polecat (Vormela peregusa), Geoffroy’s bat (Myotise marginatus), European otter (Lutra lutra), Brandt’s hamster (Mesocricetus brandti), White-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala), Ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca) and Common crane (Grus grus). Kızılırmak toothcarp (Aphanius danfordii), lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), Arctic warbler (Phylloscopus borealis), Black warbler (Phylloscopus fuscus) and Black-throated accentor (Prunella Atrogularis), are species that are endemic or that can be only seen in Kızılırmak Delta where we can also see rare species such as little bunting (Emberiza pusilla), purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio) and Rize snowdrop (Galanthus rizehensis). Kızılırmak Delta is also an area where endangered fish species such as Fringebarbel sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris) and stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus) spend critical periods of their life cycle.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Kızılırmak Delta, the most important wetland of Turkey in Black Sea Coast, which has managed to largely maintain its natural features and contains endangered habitats, is one of the world’s rare wetland ecosystems by drawing attention with the human activities that contribute to the Region’s economy, in addition to its rich biodiversity. Nowadays, the effects of climate change on human and wild life are frequently discussed, the adaptability of wetlands to changing conditions confront the humanity as an indispensable factor. A worldwide increase of the number of researches on the subject of values given to wetlands and their functions is observed. There are some targets such as preserving these features of the area, appraising it in preserving-using balance, dedicating it to humanity by obtaining universal status, transferring it to next generations with a deserved conformity. These targets are accepted as a result of a number of planning activities with the participation of local actors, public bodies and non-governmental organizations. In this context, until today, various activities and projects have been realized for the contribution of sustainability achievement in addition to protected statuses and measures. The first and the most important activity of this context is protected status developed for various boundaries devoted to protection of wild life and habitats in Kızılırmak Delta. At present, there are protected statuses of Natural Protected Area, Wild Life Development Area and Ramsar Area that contain various boundaries and environments.  

A large portion of the Kızılırmak Delta was declared as 1st, partly 2nd or 3rd degree Natural Protected Area on 21st of April, 1994. Cernek Lake and 5.174 hectares of area in its environment, one of the most important wildlife habitats of the delta, was put under protection as Wildlife Development Area with the decisions taken in 1979 and 2005.

With the 1/25.000 scale Environmental Plan prepared in 1996; wetland protection zones (nature sanctuary, ecological impact, and buffer) were determined; and for each region, specific planning decisions that regulate protection and using principles, were developed. 21.700 hectares of Kızılırmak Delta, all of wetland ecosystems and lands including natural qualities preserved habitats associated with the system, were taken into Ramsar Convention List, on 15th of April, 1998. From this date, the utter protection of the ecological character of the area in the list has been internationally committed.  

In 2004, Kızılırmak Delta Bird Sanctuary Project was realized, within the scope of the project, it was aimed to raise the awareness for the area by building the visitor center and the bird watching houses.

Kızılırmak Delta Wetland Management Plan was put into effect in 2008, for the 2nd implementation period, 5 year period between 2014 and 2018 was found appropriate. As in similar wetland ecosystems, Kızılırmak Delta is interested by and under the responsibility of a large number of organizations. In accordance with this fact, it is observed that more than 20 public bodies and institutions are assigned to realize plan targets that will contribute to ensuring the protection and the sustainability of the delta. Area management plan implementations are still conducted under the coordination of General Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks, Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, which is the responsible institution according to legislation.    

On 13th of March, 2015, Samsun Metropolitan Municipality and the municipalities in the boundaries of the delta which are Bafra, Alaçam and 19 Mayıs Municipalities, established Samsun Kızılırmak Delta Protection and Development Association in accordance with the Management Plan. The association aims to provide the protection of socio-economic balance, ecological balance, biodiversity; and their sustainability. It is expected that the association will constitute an effective and active structure with the relevant actors, to implement plan activities and to quickly resolve the problem of fragmented ownership structure (public, private and controversial areas) in the delta lands.

Comparison with other similar properties

Among wetlands in Turkey, there are those which are crucial especially for migratory birds. These wetlands with international importance are located on two of the most important bird migration routes in West Palearctic Region, passing through Turkey.Kızılırmak Delta,with its location on one of these migration routes, is one of the most important wintering centers for West Palearctic waterfowls. Delta is the most important wetland for the migratory birds that pass over Black Sea; to be prepared for the flight, to rest after their flight, to feed and to shelter.  

Kızılırmak Delta, with 352 bird species, has so far the highest value determined in an area in South Black Sea Basin. It is determined that until today, Danube Delta in Black Sea Coast, that exists in UNESCO World Heritage List and that has the second biggest river basin and delta in Europe has 300;Sreberna Nature Reserve that is also in UNESCO World Heritage List, in Bulgaria, has 180;Kolkheti National Park in Georgia has 194; Lower Dniester National Nature Park in Ukraine has 300; Roussensky National Park that exists in UNESCO Provisional World Heritage List, in Bulgaria has 190 bird species. According to the results of a survey conducted in 1992, it is determined that 140 bird species breed in KızılırmakDelta.This value is 110 in Roussensky National Park which is in Provisional List, 100 in Sreberna Nature Reserve which is in World Heritage List, 166 in Danube Delta. The value of both bird species and numbers of birds that brood proves that Kızılırmak Delta is one of the most important wetlands of South Black Sea, Europe, West Palearctic Region and the world.  

Turkey is one of the relatively rich countries in terms of wetland numbers and qualities. Among 135 internationally important wetlands in the country, 14 of them are in Ramsar List.Kızılırmak Delta wetland, 2nd largest of Anatolia, has been included in Ramsar List, by meeting this agreement’s 8 criteria out of 9. These criteria are:

  • The high level representation of rare habitat types special to Black Sea (Mixed broad-leaved flooded forests and wet meadows, Criterion 1)
  • Hosts habitats and plant and animal species considered as endangered Jurineakilaea, Loddon lily (Leucojum aestivum), Sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum), Rhaponticum serratuloides, Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), White-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala), Common crane (Grus grus), Criterion 2)
  • One of the most important areas of a large number of living species in Black Sea (Black Sea Shad (Aloso Tanaica), Black stork (Ciconia nigra), European otter (Lutra lutra), Criterion 3)
  • An area where a concentration of large number of bird species occurs during certain periods of their lives (wintering, breeding, feeding, overnight) (Common crane (Grus grus), White-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala), Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), Criterion 4)
  • Regularly supports more than 20.00 waterfowls (During realization of counting since 1993, the average value obtained has been 100.000, Criterion 5)
  • Hosts 1% of regional and/or world’s a large number of birds (Common pochard (Aythya ferina), Common teal (Anas crecca), Eurasian coot (Fulica atra) and Red-crested pochard (Netta rufina), Criterion 6)
  • An area where endangered fish species of Kızılırmak River spend critical periods of their life cycle (Fringebarbel sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris), Stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus), Criterion 7)
  • One of the three areas where sturgeon species breed, Kızılırmak River hosts more than 1% of Turkey population during breeding period (Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), Fringebarbel sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris), Stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus), Baltic sturgeon (Acipensersturio) and Beluga (Husohuso), Criterion 8).

According to Ramsar criteria, while it is enough for a wetland to regularly host 20.000 and more waterfowls to gain international status, during realization of regular counting since 1993, the value of 150-200 thousand has been reached; in 2015, the existence of 170.000 birds were recorded in Delta. In addition, the average value of 60 obtained in midwinter waterfowls’ count is the highest value determined in Turkey’s wetlands. It is estimated that the number of birdswith passerines thatpass over Delta every year is a few millions. 41 thousand little gulls determined during migration prove the stunning value of this area; while for this category, IBA standard number is only 680.