Monday, September 17, 2012

Cleopatra's Bath
Out here in the middle of nowhere, beyond the edge of the map, is a place so strikingly majestic, so naturally endowed with healing properties, that Cleopatra would travel from Egypt to bathe in the thermal springs and relax in the restorative mineral waters that cascade down the sides of this mountain paradise. With her retinue in tow she would set up camp at the source of the natural spring, above the cliffs in the Roman city of Hierapolis, and be treated to a beauty regime even the wealthy of today would envy.
Pamukkale, as this region near the city of Denizli is called, is an attraction that draws visitors from all over the world. I first bathed in these travertine pools 20 years ago when on a drive back from Istanbul to our coastal holiday resort, my friends and I decided to detour over a hundred kilometres from the main road to see this spectacular landscape.

Exhausted from the excitement of the big city, as we lounged in the soothing thermal waters under the burning sun, churning the fossilised rock of thousands of years into jelly, even then we recognised the peril of unabated tourism to these magnificent natural creations.

For several thousand years these bright white cliffs and pools, called travertine, have been a health resort for those seeking effective management of a variety of medical conditions.
The spa water is apparently an effective remedy on everything from rheumatism to kidney and urinary tract infection, from eye disease to ailments of the respiratory and circulatory systems. With a temperature of 36c degrees the water is comfortably warm, and with a Ph value of 5.8 and radon value of 1480 picocuries per litre it provides a much sought after invigorating infusion.

The spring water, high in calcium carbonate, flows down the cliffs at 260 litres per second to form the travertine pools and slopes that have a texture and structure similar to a coral reef.
In the past the water flowed at 390 litres per second and the travertine were much more numerous. In much the same way that coral reefs are being destroyed by over fishing and tourism, the Pamukkale travertine are disintegrating due to exposure to foot traffic and endless coach loads of curious visitors.
Although steps have now been taken to reduce the traffic over the travertine, allowing visitors access to a small but still significant portion of the mountain, there has clearly already been a damaging impact on the fragile calcium constructions.
As an ancient natural formation it is of course right that all people should be allowed to view and benefit from this area, however adequate measures must be in place to ensure its continued growth and lasting beauty.
Three-quarters of the world's coral reefs are at risk due to over-fishing, pollution, climate change and other factors.
The organisation Reefs at Risk Revisited collates the work of hundreds of scientists from around the world and spent three years compiling documentation on the health of coral reefs that was publicly released last year. The main reason for that change, the report claims, has been a massive increase in damage from exploitative fishing, particularly in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The damage ranges from simply catching more fish than nature can replace to the use of extreme fishing methods such as dynamiting fish to stun or kill them, which also blasts the coral formations to dust. Other major threats are pollution carried in rivers, coastal development, and global climate change.
Coral polyps are tiny creatures that live in partnership with algae to provide nutrition to build the reefs and give corals their array of pastel and vivid colours. When the water gets too hot the algae are expelled and the coral turns white, a process called bleaching. If climate projections become reality, then by 2030 roughly half of the world's reefs will experience bleaching in most years, peaking to 95% by about 2050.
Having evaluated more than 2,500 protected areas of reef, the report compiled by a group of more than 20 research and conservation organisations, led by the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, concluded that even though over a quarter of the world's coral is nominally protected only one-sixth of the areas offer sufficient safeguards.

In Pamukkale, a UNESCO World Heritage site, matters have improved over the past twenty years as the management organisation has tried to balance the demands of tourism with the protection of this unique and delicate environment.

When I first visited people swarmed over the cliffs in flip-flops, swimming in the pools and jumping from level to level without regard for the chunks of calcium and carbonate stone that chipped off under their feet. Thankfully, evident disregard for the monumental precipices no longer happens.
There are still thousands of tourists arriving every summer, but access has been limited to certain areas that are frequently monitored for harmful effects. Also, the day-trippers (yes, I recognise my place in the hordes of sightseers) are now asked to remove all footwear and can only view most of the site through cameras and strategically positioned binoculars.
The normal condition of the travertine is a dry, solid state, so some of the natural spring water is artificially directed over parts of the travertine to create the stunning and visually dazzling vista most people associate with the site. Many people still bathe in the accessible thermal ponds, and rub the soft mineral-rich mud all over their bodies in hopes of a curative for ailments or skin beautifying enhancement.

Therefore the pools are regularly emptied and dried to prevent the build up of moss and dirt that can discolour or erode the rock face, and to preserve the beauty of this exceptional location for future generations.

I’m glad to see progress in the conservation work happening at this amazing place, and hope my contribution to a healthy and beautiful world has an influence, regardless how small, on maintaining the sanctuary of this site for others.
I enjoyed the experience of the therapeutic effects and delighted once again in the visual splendour of this outstanding wonder of the world. I wish you too could experience this magical radiant region, climb the strangely grainy cliffs to bathe in the thermal mineral water where Cleopatra came to rejuvenate surrounded by the scenic beauty of this natural environment, and participate in the conservation of these spectacular travertine pools.
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