Environmental groups have slammed an Environmental Services study released on August 2 giving the go-ahead for the creation of two golf courses and a large residential and touristic complex in the Limni area close to Polis well within the Natura 2000 network.
Not only is the state in danger of being dragged before the European Court by the Commission for not having conducted the necessary environmental studies on the impact of such a project, but the granting of the development licence is in contravention of the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC).
The development which will take place close to traditional loggerhead turtle nesting grounds is said to affect approximately 25% of the total number of nests on the islands beaches.
According to the environmental groups, the decision by the Environmental Services not only threatens the survival of these vulnerable creatures but exposes the Cypriot taxpayers to carry the weight of an impending fine from the European Court.
This comes at a time when the programme implemented for protecting sea turtles in Cyprus is considered to be the best in the Mediterranean.
Melina Markou, an official in the Fisheries Department, explained that the programme which comes into effect between May and October each year has been implemented since 1978 and covers the beaches of (Chelonia mydas) the protected areas of Lara-Tokseftra, the Natura 2000 area in Polis-Gialia and anywhere else on the island where there is sporadic spawning.
“In 2015, we had 1,260 loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and green turtle nests, so far, for 2016, we have a total of 1500 nest,” said Markou, stating that the loggerhead turtle is on the increase, while the numbers of green turtles fluctuates.
Attributing the increase of turtle numbers to the protection programme implemented and the longevity of turtles, Markou pointed out that Cyprus plays host to two very special species.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the loggerhead turtle which also nests in Greece and some other Mediterranean countries, but in lesser numbers than in Cyprus, is classified as vulnerable. The green turtle which spawns almost exclusively in Turkey and Cyprus is classified as endangered.
So successful is the protection programme in Cyprus, that it has been considered one of the best programmes in the European Union and featured in the Natura 2015 Award Finalists.
Furthermore, the book, ‘Manual on Marine Turtle Conservation in the Mediterranean’, written by Cypriot experts on marine turtles, Andreas Dimitropoulos and Maroulla Hadjichristoforou is used as a guide by Mediterranean countries who have nesting sites on their beaches.
The protection of the nesting grounds at Lara beach and Polis have been outsourced, following tenders, to experts who follow the protection programme and are regularly inspected by Fishery Department officials. The Fisheries Department is also quick to act on information regarding newly discovered nests by covering them with a protective cage or if they are in a tourist area, the nests are relocated to Lara Beach.