To date this year, Cyprus can boast having over sea 1,500 turtle nests as part of a protection programme considered one of the best in the Mediterranean, a fisheries department official said.
“In 2015 we had around 1,260 nests of Green turtles, Chelonia mydas, and Caretta caretta,” Melina Markou told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA). “So far in 2016, with the period still not over, the nests are over 1,500.”
Markou said there was a rise in nesting for both species. In recent years, Green turtle nests fluctuated as Caretta caretta displayed a rising trend.
The protection programme started in 1978 and is in effect every year between May and October. It covers the beaches of Lara, Toxeftra, the Natura 2000 area at Polis – Yialia, but also anywhere on the island where sporadic spawning has been detected.
Observers usually see between 80 and 100 baby turtles per nest.
According to Markou, in the Mediterranean, Green turtles almost exclusively lay their eggs in Cyprus and Turkey. Caretta lays eggs in Greece also, and other countries in the region in smaller numbers.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature categorises the Caretta caretta as vulnerable — a species considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild; the Green turtle is considered endangered, a species considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
“The programme is recognised as one of the best sea turtle protection and management programmes in the Mediterranean,” she said. “We have the most increases in the entire Mediterranean,” prompting peers to use Cyprus as an example.
However, it is not all well and good for the turtles.
Nine conservation groups issued a statement on Thursday warning that a golf resort in the Limni area of Polis would threaten sea turtles and the price would eventually be paid by taxpayers who would have to foot the hefty fine imposed by the European Court.
The organisations said it is now well known that the Republic was at risk of being taken to court over the development because, according to the European Commission, failure to prepare an environmental impact assessment, which would properly evaluate the project’s effects on the Natura 2000 network, and approval of the project without ensuring that it will not harm the integrity of the area, constitutes a violation of EU habitats directive 92/43/EEC.
The groups said turtles arriving on the beach to lay their eggs would be disturbed and the lighting and luminance would disorient baby turtles trying to reach the sea.
Conservationists estimate that the project would affect 25 per cent of the Ceretta caretta nests in the Republic.
The final decision of the government’s environment department, which essentially added a 160-room hotel to the project instead of reducing the housing development, will not convince the European Commission, which will likely take the matter to court, the groups said.
Just over a year ago, the Commission sent an official letter telling the government to cancel the two building permits.
Cyprus Limni Resorts and Golf Courses Plc project is being developed by the Shacolas Group, which owns about 3.3 million sq. m. of freehold land, with a beachfront of 750m, and the proposed development will target the ‘premium segment of the market’ according to their website.
As well as a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course and a Gary Player signature golf course, the project will include a five-star hotel, a wellness centre, luxury residences, a museum, and an information centre on the turtles, cycle paths, and a helipad.
The EU Commission opposed the project last April, saying that the Limni area overlooking Morphou Bay is part of the Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas.
Cyprus was cautioned to respect the Natura 2000 guidelines and had to commission a conservation study on the effects of the project to the surrounding area. (This was bypassed by former president Demetris Christofias in the last throes of his administration in order to speed up the process.)
Markou urges the public to help in the sea turtle conservation project by getting in touch with the department of fisheries whenever they observe sea turtles or their nests in order for them to be recorded in the database.
“Data such as the date and if possible the time spotted, as well as the area the nest was found in are important so that the trained staff from the department can check the possible nest and take steps to protect it,” Markou said. Information about sea turtles in Cyprus can be communicated to the fisheries department by phone 22807835 / 22807841 or by email at [email protected]