Lara bay must be protected but local communities concerns are also valid
By Glafkos Constantinides
Lara bay in Akamas has once again become a battleground of unsolved conflicts between environmental protection and local development.
According to several reports by Cypriot environmental scientists and renowned UN, EU and World Bank experts, Lara bay is of great ecological importance as nesting ground for the green turtle and caretta caretta. Rightly, the bay has been under protection since 1989 with regulations prohibiting not only building development but also more simple activities including vehicle traffic, beach umbrellas and lighting after dark. There is no question, Lara bay must be protected as turtle habitat, a biotope, and it is the government’s responsibility to see that the whole bay comes and stays under proper management.
There are on the other hand serious reactions to such prohibitions by the local community, and possibly beyond, because prohibitions on the use of the beach area put a break on development opportunities keeping the community poor compared to other coastal communities of much less environmental significance. And this is precisely why Lara bay, and the Akamas Peninsula more widely, remains a battleground of unresolved environmental policy problems.
Such reactions go back a long way and they are a nuisance but somehow understandable. Coastal development, a major source of land gains and income growth almost all over Cyprus, continues to be guided by a simple-minded development model of ‘building development you win, environmental protection you lose’. Just look at Ayia Napa and Paralimni and then look at Inia and the other communities next door.
This sharp contradiction reveals a serious gap and a failure in the development policy explaining the frustrations of the local communities and the abortive efforts delaying for years the adoption and implementation of the management plan for the Akamas Peninsula.
Part of the problem is the apparent difficulty in understanding that environmental quality is intrinsically valuable, and a potential source of revenues provided you get the economics right to bring about a balance between the benefits from coastal development and the cost of environmental protection.
The cost of environmental protection is the key here. Because in addition to the direct on-site management costs there is the cost of foregone development opportunities, technically called ‘the opportunity cost’. The problem is that the protection of Lara as a biotope is not recognised to involve the opportunity cost paid for by the local people so that we can enjoy Lara’s biodiversity.
The principle of ‘beneficiary pays’ is central to environmental policy. In local terms, if the government wishes to protect Lara for scientific knowledge, research and enjoyment then all of us who value and wish to have this experience (benefit) should pay, otherwise, as things stand now, the local community will. These ideas are part and parcel of the environmental policies in many EU countries; they are common practice all over the world.
There are solutions that should be considered. Solutions must include but go beyond regulation to make economic sense. Environmental protection can be made to create revenues, either directly through entrance charges for the visitors who wish to enjoy Lara’s biodiversity (like in museums and galleries) or, indirectly, through income generating local investments that strengthen and broaden the local environmental character and identity (local cottage industry, agro-accommodation facilities and services, etc.).
An additional idea to explore is the mechanism of an Environmental Fund to facilitate the transfer of resources for rebalancing the opportunity cost of environmental protection in Akamas now paid by the Akamas communities. There are several other measures to be considered each one with its own specificities but to make them work we need first to recognise the weaknesses of the existing approaches and to assess each and every possible measure within the context of an integrated environment/development strategy and a better understanding of simple economics.
The environment is a ‘public good’ but we also need to recognise that there are costs and benefits to be balanced out in implementing environmental protection, an objective that the public sector cannot address solely through the budget without the use of market-based instruments.
Glafkos Constantinides is an economists and urban planner