Cyprus Mail

Martin Marancos: an outstanding nature conservationist and friend

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Martin Marancos seen repairing traditional stone walls with fellow conservationist and good friend Salih Gucel

On Monday this week – in a quiet event and surrounded by family and many dozens of friends and collaborators from across the island – Martin Marancos was laid to rest under an olive tree in Ayios Epiktitos (Çatalköy) cemetery. Working with quiet determination for over two decades, Martin was one of the most effective Cypriot nature conservationists and civil society activists. His sudden passing last week, at the age of 68, came as a huge shock to all who knew him.

This is not a standard obituary; it is rather my attempt to pay tribute to an outstanding ally in the ‘fight for nature’ and a very dear friend.

Martin Marancos was an absolute gem of a human being. He was a real character and a true gentleman; a person whose honesty, steadfastness, humility and excellent good humour meant he forged lasting collaborations and friendships. “One of life’s good guys,” as a mutual friend put it upon hearing the sad news. The simplicity of that description fits well – Martin was never one for hyperbole or the limelight. (Except, that is, when he was regaling his friends with one of his wonderful tales drawn from his rich and varied life. In this setting, he would hold court with dry wit and colourful description, one of the many things his many friends will miss…).

When I first met Martin, back in 2001, he was running Kuşkor, the Turkish Cypriot Bird Protection Society, as a volunteer. He helped me out on a bicommunal project on farmland birds and out of this grew many fruitful collaborations and a valued friendship.

It was Martin who first introduced me to the Karpas peninsula and in my mind, this remote, wildlife-rich area will always be linked with him. Fighting to protect this wonderful corner of the island was one of his greatest passions. In 2007, by which time I was working for BirdLife Cyprus and Martin was Kuşkor chair, he organised the first proper boat survey of the colony of the rare Audouin’s Gulls on the Kleides Islands, off the tip of the Karpas. This joint Kuşkor – BirdLife Cyprus survey has continued every year since.

Later, in 2010, we worked together to set up and secure funding, from Europe-Aid, for a two-year bicommunal project to revise the inventory of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for Cyprus. We made sure the new IBA list covered the area north of the dividing line in full, for the first time. Martin – still working in a voluntary capacity – used this funding to grow Kuşkor and provide employment for young conservationists in the Turkish Cypriot community. The IBA inventory produced through this project remains a cornerstone for bird conservation in Cyprus.

There isn’t the space here to cover all that Martin did in a rich and varied life: from finance in London in earlier years, to running boat trips out of Kyrenia (Girne) harbour on his beloved ‘Neptune’ at the turn of the millennium, to teaching English with style and distinction at METU and other universities in the north.

His wife Irene and daughter Miriam were the big loves of his life. Martin also worked for and helped establish the Taşkent Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, at Vouno. In more recent years, and working hand-in-hand with Irene, he sank his energy into the grassroots, community-based ÇADER conservation project, once more building a strong legacy for the future.

Now that Martin rests under that olive tree, Cyprus nature has lost one of its outstanding defenders, and, like everyone else who was lucky enough to work with Martin and count him as a friend, I will miss him dearly. Rarely, in my opinion, can the old saying of ‘a life well lived’ be more aptly applied.


Martin Hellicar is director of local nature conservation NGO BirdLife Cyprus

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