Field visit to Akamas/Akama Peninsul
Cyprus is a biodiversity hotspot, with landscapes containing areas of high ecological, aesthetic and cultural significance. The two major protected areas of Cyprus, Karpass/ Karpaz and Akamas/Akama, are in the spotlight of the Technical Committee of the Environment. Under this framework, a field visit to Akamas/Akama peninsula, aiming to illustrate the environmental challenges of the area as well as the practical solutions which will enable the identification of key environmental needs and act together was conducted.
The Akamas/Akama Peninsula (Natura 2000 site), on the western tip of the island, is an area, rich in species and habitats, with many rare and endemic species. Approximately 530 different plant species have been recorded in this area, of which 36 are endemic. Equally impressive is the variety of fauna: 170 different species of birds have been identified so far in Akamas/Akama, (i.e the roller, the Bonelli's eagle and the peregrine Falcon), 12 mammals, 20 reptiles and 16 butterfly species. Akamas/Akama is also of a great geological and cultural interest. Almost all the geological strata found in Cyprus are represented in Akamas/Akama area. This coupled with the varied topography has led to a wide variety of microclimates which in turn has led to the large biodiversity and sheer natural beauty of the area.
Like most of the ecosystems in Cyprus, Akamas/Akama Peninsula is under great pressure for development. The peninsula has already experienced considerable landscape changes due to human activity.
The Technical Committee on Environment along with Greek and Turkish Cypriot experts of different scientific interest (Private sector, Academia, NGOs) formed a team of 30 people for the purpose of this visit. The main objective of the team was to illustrate the environmental challenges of the area as well as the practical solutions which were implemented until now and those that could be applied in the future.
The team's first stop was at Toxeftra beach area, where the forester Takis Tsintides, offered a short briefing regarding the developments and the progress of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Management Plan of the area. As, mentioned, the main goal of the plan is to address all challenges, and provide comprehensive protection to the biodiversity, while improving the experience of visitors arriving in the area and providing substantial benefits to the local communities. This can contribute to the effective management of the large number of visitors (more than 800 thousand per year), who arrive at the park, thus reducing the pressure on the natural habitats of the area, in the best possible way.
While being at the area, the team had the opportunity to witness some of the major problems of the area such as littering, operation of illegal kiosk and snack bars and the uncontrolled entrance of quad bikes and Safari tour vehicles adjacent to the turtle nesting sand dunes in South Lara – Toxeftra beach, causing the presence of extensive amount of dust in the area leading to the loss of biodiversity.In order to deal with this problem, a series of metal poles have been placed at the road site, which prevent the vehicles from entering the turtle nesting areas and sand dunes, giving the opportunity to the vegetation of the area to recuperate.
The second stop of the team was to the Lara Turtle nesting beach, where the TCE members and experts met with Simos Demetropoulos, member of Cyprus Wildlife Society. Lara covers about 10 km of coastline. The west coast nesting area is declared as a marine and coastal reserve for the protection of nesting sites of two species of marine turtles, Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas. Moreover, the reserve was included in 2011 in the Natura 2000 network as part of the Akamas/Akama peninsula. TCE members and experts, were informed about the implementation of the Turtle Conservation Project, which involves protecting turtles and their habitats and nests on all nesting beaches. Team also had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges observed in the area, the actions implemented to protect it and opportunities of future cooperation.
Last stop of the field visit was at Centre for geology and palaeontology of Akamas/Akama at Arodes Village, where team met with the local authorities. This was an opportunity to take into consideration the concerns and demands of the local communities of Akamas/Akama area, which are highly affected by the Plan . TCE members and key experts were able to exchanges ideas, be informed about possible funding opportunities, and explore the possibilities of future cooperation. Main focus of the discussion was to how can the TCE in cooperation with NGOs and other experts to engage young scientist to the protection of the environment in a long-term basis, through training, mobility programs.