Akamas: Cyprus’ ecological treasure is under attack from its government

The peninsula, which accounts for 15 percent of the island’s greenery, has become the target of private investors, facilitated by opaque government redevelopment plans, which threaten the area’s broad biodiversity and forests

The Akamas peninsula is a unique area not only for the island of Cyprus, but worldwide. It is located at the westernmost tip of the island and is a refuge for over 200 species of endemic birds and countless types of flora and fauna. The area hosts species unique to earth such as the loggerhead sea turtle, as well as a nesting area for the fastest animal on the planet, the peregrine falcon, that has a diving speed of up to 300 kilometres per hour.

The diversity of the region’s terrain is the reason why it is home to so many different kinds of life. The territory of Akamas includes hills, gorges, bays, streams and valleys. Despite the ruggedness of the area, the peninsula has been inhabited since ancient times, hence the ruins of settlements and temples that can still be seen there. The area, therefore, apart from its natural beauty and ecological value, also has historical worth.

Cyprus is referred to in ancient writings as ‘Dasoessa’ (Forest covered island), in reference to the proportion, density and variety of forests that covered the island. Since then, however, fires, invasions and wars, in addition to the spread of livestock farming and later industrial and touristic development, have led to a reduction in the forestry from 93 percent in antiquity to just 18.7 percent today. The forest area of Akamas constitutes about 15 percent of the remaining greenery of the island.

UNESCO and Natura 2000 recognition

However, despite the fact that it is widely accepted that the area in question is an ecological treasure, efforts have been made for decades to undermine and restrict it, with the aim of its economic exploitation. It is indicative of the fact that, between 1987 and 1995, the Akamas Peninsula was proposed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with a land area of 23,000 hectares, and between 1998 and 2003, the Akamas Peninsula was mapped and proposed for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network as a Special Area of Conservation, with a territory of 17,690 hectares. Eventually, in 2018, the National Forest Park of Akamas (7,762 hectares) was inducted as part of the Natura 2000 Sites of Community Importance (SCI) and Special Protection Areas (SPA). This latest development is very far from the area that the relevant scientific studies indicate as its actual size, which leaves the species reported to the authorities to be nesting, hunting and living outside the Natura 2000 area to be endangered on a daily basis.

Government’s shady development plans

Since 2018, state plans started to be submitted in cooperation with private entities which include specific provisions for the creation of eight main entrances and 14 amenity hubs, the construction of seven refreshment facilities and three souvenir shops, as well as the development of forest roads and paths with a total length of 85 km within the Akamas National Forest Park and the SCI (CY4000010) and SPA (CY4000023) Natura 2000 sites of the peninsula. At the same time, the government’s proposed Akamas National Forest Park Sustainable Development Plan does not include any proposals for the declaration of natural reserves, forest monuments and natural micro-reserves. Furthermore, the Forestry Law and the Forest Policy Statement of the Republic of Cyprus do not include any provisions for the declaration of wildlife areas, as well as protected terrestrial and marine landscapes.

After widespread public opposition, this plan did not go ahead, except in isolated incidents, which were either cancelled after further protests or went ahead despite them, especially in the Akamas area, which is criminally not included in the Natura 2000 framework. Now, however, a new local plan is being formulated, in which it is known that references are being made to extensive touristic developments, which are a far cry from the ‘soft development’ framework that the Ministry of the Interior claims to be preparing.

At this point, we can only refer to substantiated reports or rumours, since the Ministry stubbornly refuses to disclose the content of the local plan – even claiming that doing so would be “potentially illegal” – even though, according to the international convention of Aarhus, which was ratified by the Republic of Cyprus decades ago, does not mention anything of the sort.

There have also been authoritative reports of cases where the Ministry has shared the contents of the drafted local plan with private individuals who have major financial interests in the area, while denying this right to environmental organisations and collectives.

DiEM25 joins the protests

Within 10 days, in the wake of these developments, two large peaceful demonstrations took place in the capital Nicosia and Paphos, with hundreds of protesters – including DiEM25 members – chanting slogans such as “Akamas belongs to our children”, “We want our forests” and “Enough destruction”.

The “destruction” in this case is in reference to the housing developments in vulnerable natural zones, such as those that have led to the collapse of sea caves, the death of at least one seal, developments on turtle hatching beaches, and numerous fires (some intentional) that in the last six years have burned thousands of hectares of rich flora and fauna.

Take action

As members of DiEM25 we demand the full protection not only of Akamas, but of all natural habitats in Cyprus. This demand does not conflict with the right of the inhabitants of the wider areas to maintain a decent living and equal opportunities. It is time for the state to ensure both the integrity of our natural wealth and the provision of infrastructure and empowerment for the residents of the neighbouring areas, without electoral or speculative influence from large private interests and the island’s oligarchy.

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