BirdLife Cyprus raised concerns on Friday over a new project, that will see the construction of around 300 apartments, adding it to the list of developments that threaten the wetland at Akrotiri.
“The protected Akrotiri wetlands complex is perhaps the most important area for birds in Cyprus and a go-to destination for nature lovers, tourists and locals alike” and a haven for thousands of migratory birds and other wildlife, Birdlife said.
Though one would expect that the area would be under strict protection as well as proper management for the conservation and promotion of its rich biodiversity, it seems that instead people opt to “eat away” at it with luxury villas, tower blocks, casinos and golf courses, the group said.
BirdLife said that in addition to a number of other developments in the area, a new project is now on the cards, concerning the construction of eight blocks with 310 apartments in the area of Tsierkezoi, plus swimming pools, parking lots and courts. “This project, in conjunction with other developments that exist or are planned in the area, will bring about a complete change in land use, resulting in the fragmentation and disruption of the sensitive ecosystem of the area,” it said in a written statement.
The fact that each project is licensed individually means there is no assessment of the impact all these developments will have collectively on the natural environment of the area, it said, adding there has been no ecological assessment for several of these developments, as required for projects sited near or within Natura 2000 sites.
The group said that the wider area north of Akrotiri salt lake is recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and should have been designated as a Natura 2000 site for its importance for the Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus), a migratory bird of prey whose global population is declining.
“Traditionally, the area was rich in fruit trees and cypress trees, but now these developments will bring about a complete change in land use, replacing the area’s rural landscape,” BirdLife said. “This will result in cumulative pressures for both the salt lake and the birds of the area, especially the Red-footed Falcon and Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae), which use the area for feeding and roosting.”
The NGO said the area now also includes the waterpark at Fassouri, the mall at Zakaki, the Limassol port with plans for expansion while a casino-resort is under construction in Zakaki. Other plans concern the demarcation of 78 plots, the construction of two tower blocks and 10 villas and the construction of a golf course and hundreds of villas in Zakaki and the construction of a photovoltaic park at Bishop’s Pool.
“The conversion of the area into residential and the sealing of land will also affect the salt lake’s water balance, both in terms of quality and quantity, especially as the flow of rainwater will change since it will pass through residential development before reaching the salt lake,” BirdLife said.
The group also raised concerns over mosquito management in the area as there is the risk of interventions or measures taken that could jeopardise the integrity of the wetland and its species. “Increasing pressures for the draining of adjacent protected wetlands, such as Zakaki Marsh, is also very likely.”
BirdLife pointed out that saline and brackish marshes are the rarest type of wetland globally, accounting for about 0.5 per cent of the world’s total wetland area. “That is why the Ramsar Convention has recognised the Akrotiri wetland complex as a wetland of international importance.
“How much more pressure can a vulnerable area like this take?” the group asked.