The proclamation of the Akamas National Park development plan by cabinet on November 2 set the stage for an arson-laden month, as individuals apparently took it upon themselves to erase what should be a protected area, making way for projects of private profit.
In a period usually marking the end of the fire season, the first two weeks of November this year saw five fires in the Akamas area, burning six hectares of wild vegetation.
Of course arson is nothing new. According to the forestry department, nine out of 10 fires are caused by people, while in the period 2010-2017, which saw a total of 1,001 fires across the island, 197 fires (26 per cent) of the 759 fires that had anthropogenic causes were deliberately set.
In 2018, out of the 57 fires that the Paphos forest endured, which burnt a total area of 227 hectares, 43 or 75 per cent were set intentionally, forestry department statistics show.
The underlying issue is the pervasive idea that environmental protection and the preservation of (endemic) species and rich biodiversity clashes with or limits financial prosperity. The truth is that the only clash is limiting the accumulation of profit for the few at the expense of the many.
The many, which include the local communities surrounding the Akamas peninsula and who have been at the forefront of pressures for the development of the area at the expense of the environment, have nothing to gain from large-scale developments such as all-inclusive hotels and golf courses. They do, however, have much to lose if one of the sole factors of tourist attraction, the uniqueness of the environment, is stripped away.
The apotheosis of this notion that ecological protection does not equal financial prosperity can be located in the period after the financial crisis of 2013 which brought about a state of exception where all parameters other than the financial one, such as the ecological and social parameters for example, were undervalued in the name of keeping the island afloat financially.
The government’s environmental policy in the post-crisis period shifted into a profit-orientated frenzy with diminishing ecological concern.
Pending projects such as the Akamas National Park and Limni Bay prove the persistence of this state of exception in the post-financial crisis period, where development is encouraged at the expense of invaluable ecological features in areas which are part of the EU-wide Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. Yet this development is presented as being beneficial for local communities and the economy at large.
The development plan for the Akamas National Park envisions eight entrances, 14 facilities, such as parking spaces and stands offering refreshments and snacks, three souvenir shops and eight roads totalling 85km, all in an area which is part of Natura 2000.
According to the environmental group Terra Cypria, at the end of 1980s and beginning of the 1990s Akamas had a total protected area of 23,000 hectares. By 2018 this had shrunk to a meagre 10,000, of which 75 per cent or 7,762 is state forest land which will form the National Park. We are now debating the construction of a road as long as the Nicosia-Limassol highway, and buildings in areas of high ecological importance such as the Lara-Toxeftra area.
In the same vein, the Limni Bay project, part of which is also in the Natura 2000 network, foresees the construction of two 18-hole golf courses, two clubhouses, a luxury hotel, villas and other housing units, leisure facilities, bicycle routes and a museum.
While the project received a green light mid-August in the form of a planning permit, the development still required approval in environmental terms, as a European Commission infringement case against it requires the permits comply with the environmental recommendations set out by the commission.
Limni bay is considered a major nesting site for the Mediterranean Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), which is an endangered species, along with the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) which nests in the Lara/Toxeftra area of the Akamas Peninsula.
Major sources of concern are rooted in the cumulative effects of lighting impact and human disturbance, which are inevitable should development occur, though these were proven through the granting of the permit to be of secondary importance to financial gain, at least on a local level.