Akamas

AKAMAS PENINSULA

A brief historical background and important milestones (1986-2000)

The Akamas peninsula, as described in the Conservation Management Plan of World Bank/EU, covers about 230 km2 and is located on the western tip of Cyprus1. It is an area of great natural beauty unaffected by development. The uniqueness of the area for Cyprus, and for the whole of the Mediterranean, is centered on its precious ecology. The diversity of flora and fauna living in this relatively small area is truly impressive. Rare endemic plants grow there and foxes, snakes and other reptiles as well as many types of migratory birds live in Akamas or use it in their movements. Out of a total of 128 endemic plant species of Cyprus, the following2 39 are found in the Akamas peninsula :

 Alyssum akamasicum, Anthemis tricolor, Arenaria rhodia ssp. cypria, Asperula cypria, Astragalus cyprius, Ballota integrefolia, Bosea cypria, Carlina involucrata spp. cyprica, Carlina pygmea, Centaurea akamantis, Centaurea calcitrapa ssp. angusticeps, Centaurea Photo by A. Demetropoulos veneris, Crocus veneris, Cyclamen cyprium, Euphorbia cypria, Gagea juliae, Gladiolus triphyllus, Helianthemum obtusefolium, Odontides cypria, Onobrychis venosa, Onopordum cyprium, Onosma fruticosum, Ophrys kotschyi, Ophrys lepethica, Origanum majorana, Ornithogalum pedicellare, Phlomis cypria var. occidentalis, Pterocephalus multiflorus ssp. multiflorus, Ptilostemon chamaepeuce var. cyprius, Rubia laurea, Scutellaria cypria var. elatior, Sedum cyprium, Sedum porphyreum, Senecio glaucous ssp. Cyprius, Taraxacum aphrogenes, Teucrium divaricatum ssp. Canescens, Teucrium micropodioides, Thymus integer, Tulipa cypria.

 In addition to its species habitats, the area is also important because of its diverse community habitats. Some of these are: 

– Pine and juniper forests
– Maquis forest
– Gorges
– Sand dunes
– Cliffs etc.

On a European level, Cyprus including the Akamas area has been identified as one of the 22 areas of endemism in Europe3 and one of only three European areas holding two or more restricted-range species of birds4.

Photo by A. DemetropoulosA vitally important characteristic of this peninsula is its beaches. Akamas is the last large unspoiled coastal area remaining in Cyprus and one of the very few important sea turtle nesting areas in the Mediterranean. Both the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta-caretta) and the rarer Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) nest here; the latter depends on the Akamas beaches for its very survival in this region. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists Loggerheads as "vulnerable" and Green Turtles as an "endangered species". According to the IUCN, the annual number of Green Turtle nesting females in the entire Mediterranean could be as low as 325-375.

 

THE PROBLEM
Akamas faces several problems. The biggest and paramount threat however, comes from the pressure for tourist development that has captured most of the island's beaches and much of its coastline. This has taken the form of hotels, apartment blocks, holiday houses, restaurants etc., with their associated spin-off activities and related infrastructure development (roads, lights, noise, pollution etc.).

 Though the above are highlighted, there are other activities that have important detrimental effects on such an ecologically sensitive area. These are: military exercises, fires, excessive uncontrolled use of routes for ‘Safari type’ expeditions, uncontrolled hunting, fishing, uncontrolled grazing, motor rallies etc.

The problem posed by tourism has long been known, and should have been appropriately handled a long time ago. In the World Bank / EU report, 1995, tourist development in Cyprus was described as having to some extent taken place at the expense of the natural and cultural environment, despite its dependence on the same environmental goods for continued growth1. This report recommended a new policy for tourism development taking into account the limited carrying capacity of the coastal zone.

 

DEVELOPMENT THREATS
Illegal and/or destructive actions which have taken or are currently taking place in the proposed park area and its buffer zone:
 

- Beach exploitation with sun beds, umbrellas, etc., at Asprokremmos beach (Thanos Hotels Ltd.)

- Bulldozing of a part of Aspros Gorge to the south of the Peninsula to set up tourist facilities.

- Illegal restaurant opened in the protected area overlooking Toxeftra beach and Avakas Gorge.

- Sand extraction from Toxeftra beach for use in the Tsada golf course.

- Putting concrete on the roads at Aspros to facilitate access to the Toxeftra area, the Avakas Gorge and to Lara Bay .

- Bulldozing, leveling and removal of natural vegetation at the entrance of Avakas Gorge.

- Illegal restaurant to the south of Lara Beach.

- Power line to Toxeftra and to illegal restaurant.

- British Military exercises causing fires and destruction of natural vegetation in protected area (this has ended since 1999).

- Rock-blasting near the village of Inia close to rare eagle nests.

- Two quarries operating in Androlikou gorge.

Imminent threats:
Proposed road leading to Toxeftra from Peyia and / or Inia village.

The operation of a new huge hotel complex at Asprokremmos, (Anassa Beach) overlooking turtle nesting sites.

Photo by Greenpeace Cyprus

Pressure, by businessman Mr. Photiades, for the construction of another huge hotel complex near Fontana Amoroza, on a private property which at present is (and has always been) an enclave in the forest area.

Photo by Greenpeace Cyprus

All development in areas designated in the World Bank / EU Report as ‘Wilderness’ or ‘Conservation’ and which are now opened up to undefined ‘mild development’.

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IMPORTANT MILESTONES CONCERNING THE AKAMAS PENINSULA
For well over a decade Cypriot and international environmentalists, and other social groups within the country have been campaigning for the establishment of a protected area in the Akamas.

1986, The Akamas Wilderness Study5: This was the first plan which was prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources and urged the protection of the whole area, especially the areas close to the turtle nesting beaches. This report is not readily available to the public since it was prepared for use within the Ministry.

1986, Akamas Peninsula Provisional Action Plan6: A provisional plan was prepared by officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. This study identified the area as a unique area, relatively large and unspoilt, with remarkably diverse features in vegetation, wildlife, landscape, geology, archaeology, and beautiful beaches. The report reached the conclusion that ‘The Akamas Peninsula should by all means be preserved in its present natural state.’ Although disputes for the future of the area were starting to emerge between naturalists and developers, even then the Report stated that "There is no an obvious reason for being in a great hurry to prepare an Action Plan". The report was not adopted as an official document.

September 1987: An Environmental Coordinating Committee for the Akamas, consisting of some 17 non-governmental scientific and environmental associations, issued the first statement saying that "a series of recent developments prove that legal and other protective measures are not being taken, and, what is even worse, existing legislation is circumvented. Any development will destroy the unique ecology of the Akamas Peninsula." They insisted that the whole area be declared a national park.

January 1989: Cypriot NGO's blocked the entrance to the Presidential-palace to protest against Government inertia on the bulldozing and razing of vegetation, by local developer Photos Photiades. President Vassiliou came out to address the protesters and gave an assurance "that nothing is going to take place in Akamas before the study for the region is completed". According to the President the idea behind this was the designation of Akamas as a national park.

1989, Preservation order: A Preservation Order was issued to maintain the natural condition of the Akamas area.

1989: The Fisheries Law Cap.l35, 1989 Regulations marked an improvement by establishing "Lara and Toxeftra Reserve Regulations". These regulations prevented damaging behavior in the specific sites but by their nature could not address the urbanization and zoning problems in the terrestrial part of the area.

1989-1994: The Laona Project. An EU-sponsored plan for the development of sustainable agro-tourism in the Laona villages of Akamas. The specific project funded by DG XI and Cypriot donors, including the A. G. Leventis Foundation and was carried out by the Laona Foundation.

April 1991: Greenpeace protests:One hundred Greenpeace "Sea Turtles" (played by Cypriot schoolchildren) lay their eggs in protest at the Ministry of the Interior. .

April 1991: Opinion poll. Friends of the Earth (Cyprus) release results of an opinion poll showing that 83 % of Cypriots favor the creation of a national park in the region.

October 1991, Protests against British military exercises: Greenpeace and other environmental activists occupy the British army shooting range in the Akamas to protest against destructive activities in the Peninsula and continue with their calls for the protection of the Akamas.

July 1992, Government requested the preparation of the Akamas Conservation Management Plan by METAP. The Plan was conducted by a team of specialists with World Bank, EU and UNDP funding. Phase I was completed in June 1993 and Phase II in Sept. 1995.

February 1993, Planning regulation relaxations: The outgoing Government in a last minute bid for local votes approves the amendment of planning regulation so the construction indicator co-efficient is raised from 0.5% to 15% near Toxeftra. This significantly endangers the sensitive areas of Toxeftra, the gorges of Avakas and Koufon and the area north of Ayios Yeorgios tis Peyias.

July 1993, White Zone around Lara and Toxeftra beaches: The recently elected government decides to freeze development in the core of the Akamas Peninsula, including the area around the turtle nesting sites, declaring it a "white zone".

January 1996, Waiver granted to Thanos Hotels Complex Ltd: Ex-Foreign Affairs Minister, Alecos Michaelides, was granted a special waiver to build a hotel in the Akamas area ignoring recommendations contained in the World Bank / EU Report to designate that particular area as a buffer zone. The hotel started its operations within 1998.

March 1996, Circulation of the Akamas Conservation Management Plan: The World Bank/EU Report (in English) was made available to the public.

December 1997, Recommendation no. 63: The Standing Committee of the Bern Convention on European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Council of Europe) issues its Recommendation (no. 63) to the Republic of Cyprus which proposed ten recommendations for the protection of the Peninsula. These included the declaration of the Pninsula as a national park, the abolition of the tourist zone near Toxeftra beach, strict protective measures in the Thanos Hotels complex area, etc7. All recommendations remain unimplemented.

September 1998, The Court cancels the building permit granted to Thanos Hotels: The Cyprus High Court declared the Hotel’s building permit null and void, in an action brought by the Cyprus Technical Chamber, on grounds that its provisions were not in the public interest. However, the Hotel was completed and fully operating by that time, so the decision had no practical effect except that the hotel called Anassa, was operating illegally, so to speak. Government departments have referred the matter to the Attorney General’s office. It is not known whether any measures were taken, nevertheless the hotel continues to operate.

 January 1999, last British military exercise in the area: cessation of British military exercises in the Akamas was the result of pressure exercised by Cypriot environmental groups .

 March, 1999, new building license granted: The Housing and Planning Department granted a permit for a new hotel in the Asprokremmos area, closer to Akamas than the Anassa Hotel. This is a 258-bed, 5 star hotel and belongs to a hotelier Mr. Kounnas, alleged to be connected to the family of the current Minister of Justice.

March, 2000, Council of Ministers decision regarding Akamas peninsula: The Council of Ministers appointed a committee with specific terms of reference to reach, if possible, a consensus decision regarding the Management Plan of the Akamas Peninsula and to submit a report to the Ministerial Committee within three months. Terms of reference contain many negative points including the limitation of the proposed national park within the state forest and allowing ‘mild development’ outside. Moreover, it proposes to extend the tourist zone within the Park to accommodate another prospective hotelier, Mr. Photiades. The decision raised objectives from many quarters including the Parliamentary Committee for the Environment, the Scientific and Technical Chamber, the Town Planners Association, and environmental groups.

For decisions taken and government proposals put forward after 2000, please click here.

 Photos by A. Demetropoulos

NOTE on THE WORLD BANK / EU REPORT (July 1992 – Sept. 1995)
The project was part of the World Bank's Mediterranean Environmental Assistance Program (METAP). The request for this project was made by the Government of Cyprus, through the Planning Bureau, in 1990. A World Bank mission took place in June-July 1991 for the preparation of the Project Terms of Reference.

For technical and budgetary reasons, the project was split into two phases: Phase I was launched in July 1992; substantive project activities extended from December 1992 - June 1993. This phase was transmitted to the Government in June 1993. Phase 2 was resumed in February 1995.

The World Bank / EU report was published in September 1995. It was however, only made available in March 1996. Minister Michaelides was granted permission to build his hotel in January 1996. In the same month of March the constructions in Asprokremmos were commenced. It is considered that the distribution of the report was delayed on purpose for the hotel construction to start so as to create a fait accompli by the time the report was circulated to the general public.

 The area covered in the Report was about 230 km2. In the recommendations, it proposes that the whole coast and other sensitive areas of about 85 km2, should be strictly protected. This was identified as a Wilderness Area. About 60 km2 was identified as Conservation area where no buildings but some agriculture would be allowed. The remaining area of about 85km2 was designated as Development/Conservation area where only mild development would be allowed. In contrast, the decision of the Council of Ministers of 2000 provided that only the state forest of about 70 km2 will be the national park area.. ‘Mild development’ would be allowed everywhere outside!! Within the ‘Park’ area and adjoining an area of special ecological interest a tourist zone would beintroduced to enable the construction of a large hotel complex. Also ‘mild development’ would be allowed in areas designated by the World Bank/EU Report as having Special Ecological Interest.

 A number of NGOs initiated legal action against the Government contesting the legality of the decision taken on 1.3.00. However, after the Supreme Court decided that NGOs do not have legal standing, the cases were dropped.

 

References

Conservation Management Plan for the Akamas Peninsula,”  Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance Programme – World Bank – UNDP, September 1995.

 

2The Endemic Plants of Cyprus,”  Cyprus Association of Professional Foresters & Bank of Cyprus Group, 1998.

 

3Europe’s Environment:  The Second Assessment,”  European Environment Agency, 1998.

 

4BirdLife International” Putting biodiversity on the map, BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK., 1994.

 

5The Akamas Wilderness”  Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Report prepared by A. Demetropoulos, L. Leontiades, and A. Pissarides, 1986.

 

6The Akamas Peninsula Provisional Action Plan,”  Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 1986.

 

7Recommendation No. 63 on the conservation of the Akamas peninsula, Cyprus, and, in particular, of the nesting beaches of Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas”,  Council of Europe – Standing Committee, Convention on the conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, 1997

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