From high-rise buildings to shipping and oil-related industries
By Annette Chrysostomou
A new holistic environmental risk assessment of the Limassol coastline is the largest-scale environmental research project for the city yet.
It was introduced to the public at last month’s second Blue Limassol Forum, co-organised by the Limassol municipality and Frederick University.
A timely study, as a total of 110 polluting incidents have been reported between 2017 until the first quarter of 2021 in Cyprus, of which the vast majority, 89 per cent, were recorded in Limassol.
This is crucial as coastal and maritime tourism is one of the basic pillars of the country’s economy, accounting for almost 12 per cent of GDP.
One of the main findings of the researchers is that only a small fraction of reported incidents is investigated and penalised, and the regulatory and monitoring process is highly fragmented among different government and municipal bodies.
To highlight just how complex the situation is, here is just one example the comprehensive study has investigated – high-rise buildings which during the past decade have become a prominent feature along the Limassol coast line.
Leaving them empty is problematic as is having them occupied.
When they are largely lived-in, traffic congestion takes over the area at certain times of the day, the study points out.
“The large income discrepancy between the occupants of the high-rise apartments and the general population of the city also creates social and functional implications which are noted by the local community,” the report added.
“On the other hand, a low occupancy rate results into the effective abandonment of the buildings leading to degradation of the city’s attractiveness and the erosion of its character.”
“In all cases, the very construction of the high-rise buildings exclusively near the coast has resulted in marine water pollution as water drainage from the foundations of the building sites is discharged into the sea.”
What makes this study, coordinated and presented by Angelos Menelaou, head of the maritime transport and commerce department of Frederick University, more feasible than others, which have often ended up on the shelves of government officials?
The researcher for one strongly believes this one will be implemented – and here is why.
“The holistic approach is the main asset of the research and has already attracted the interest of a number of reputable European universities which focus on examining the interaction of coastal cities and environment,” he explained.
“The Limassol bay and its coast is a unified space where the environment pressures of the activities interact and aggregate,” the paper explains. “The ‘spillover’ of the activities of one sector to another suggests that the overall impact on the sea and coastal environment of the various activities can be more than the sum of its part.”
All in all, there is an urgent need for all sectors of the economy along the Limassol coast to operate and develop under a guiding strategy of data integration, improved reporting, and better use of technology, towards a holistic approach of sustainable development and environmental protection.
Perhaps most important, Menelaou is confident the project will work since it is “a product of Limassol residents”.
The risk assessment was not just the result of academics pursuing a research topic, but responded to the concerns of Limassol residents regarding threats to the coastal environment expressed in an extensive opinion survey which took place during the first Blue Limassol Forum event in May 2020. For this project, 90 organisations and 500 individuals were questioned.
“We recorded some serious citizens’ concerns about Limassol coastal and marine environment. Their concerns were very much related to the intensive development of different business sectors and the obvious relevant increased environmental pressures to the coast of Limassol,” the assistant professor said.
“We were surprised that there was immediate collaboration from everybody we approached. The feeling is ‘we want this’.”
Mayor Nicos Nicolaides was the one who introduced the idea of the first holistic environmental risk assessment as a response and is ready to implement changes as outlined in the paper.
“The mayor said he will push and push. His serious and firm commitment to jointly work with all stakeholders and adopt an action plan based on the study’s findings and recommendations means that our work is impactful,” added Menelaou.
The deputy minister of shipping, Vassilis Demetriades, also voiced his support.
Their support will be needed – soon.
The paper warns the recent steep increase in population density places dangerous pressure on the already vulnerable environment because of the inadequacy of the existing infrastructure.
A comment by Menelaou is telling as well: “While all the mayors we have interviewed appeared to be interested in conservation and expressed concerns about the rapid development of high rising buildings, until today the construction of such buildings continues unabated. Nobody except the Limassol mayor said ‘this is my concern as a mayor and I have a major role to play as it regards changes of the structure of the city’.”
The paper, some 1,000 pages long, considered six sectors/industries currently active in the Limassol bay and assessed the risks they pose to the environment, and employed more than 25 researchers from Cyprus and abroad who allocated more than 20,000 working hours towards various tasks during two years.
Not only does it identify the threats arising from coastal construction, solid and liquid waste management, commercial shipping, oil and gas-related activities, fisheries and marinas and yachting, but it also provides a plethora of recommendations for each sector and for several risk areas which are interrelated.
The study was compiled during two years by Frederick University, the main contributor, with the help of risk management organisation DNV-Greece, the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute (CMMI), the Marine and Environmental Research Lab MER and the Development Agency of Limassol, ANELEM.