This study classified land cover conversions by using quantitative change detection methods in the eastern Mediterranean coastal wetlands of Turkey. Three Landsat TM scenes acquired in 1984, 1998 and 2007 were analysed using image pairs of consecutive dates. The amounts of change were calculated for the periods from 1984 to 1998 and from 1998 to 2007, using binary change masks and supervised image classifications, in which eleven a priori defined land cover classes were used. Change areas accounted for 14.81 and 15.64 per cent of the total area, in the first and second periods, respectively. Conversions from/to sand dunes, mud flats and afforestation were by far the most extensive changes. Sand dunes and mud flats decreased, while afforestation and agriculture areas increased in the 23-year period between 1984 and 2007. Five types of qualitative change were identified on the basis of land cover transformations within and between natural and anthropogenic systems. Type I changes, which indicated conversions from (semi)natural to anthropogenic systems, took place as agricultural expansion over coastal sand dunes, while Type II changes mostly occurred within agricultural systems. Type III changes included changes in human uses, leading to conversions from one anthropogenic system to another. Conversions between semi(natural) systems such as salt marshes and mud-flats were typical Type IV changes. Type V changes were mainly due to conversions from agriculture to wetland categories or other semi(natural) cover types. Implications of these changes were discussed for management of coastal environmental resources. Copyright (C) 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.