On 2 February every year, we celebrate World Wetlands Day (WWD) to raise global awareness about the important role of wetlands for people and the planet. Wetland ecosystems are among the world’s most valuable, but also most threatened environments. They provide a wealth of ecosystem services, such as clean water, food and erosion control, and they play an important role in reducing the impact of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and cyclones. Wetlands also support high levels of biodiversity, including many species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and invertebrates.
WWD always comes soon after the mid-winter waterbird count, which is part of the International Waterbird Census (IWC), coordinated by Wetlands International. The IWC is one of the largest and longest running monitoring programmes and indeed one of the largest citizen science programmes in the world. Every year since 1967, the IWC mobilises thousands of volunteers around the world with the aim of carrying out (near) simultaneous surveys of all the key waterbird sites (over 25,000 sites in 143 countries), to estimate the global populations and status of more than 870 species of waterbirds. In Cyprus, BirdLife Cyprus coordinates the mid-winter waterbird count every year in collaboration with the Game and Fauna Service. 2021 has been no exception, despite the difficulties resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s count took place on the weekend of 16- 17 January, with some 20 recorders covering 50 wetlands across the island and counting a total of 16,745 waterbirds of 68 species. The most numerous species was the Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, with 7,758 individuals counted, followed by Common Teal Anas crecca, with 2,196 individuals counted. The top site proved to be Larnaka Salt Lakes, which held the greatest number of waterbirds (10,431) and also the greatest number of species (30). Large numbers of waterbirds were also recorded at Akrotiri Peninsula wetland complex (2,706 individuals), Oroklini Lake (1,073 individuals) and Paralimni Lake (906 individuals).
The IWC would not have been possible without the committed help of our expert bird monitoring volunteers. Thanks to their dedication, we were able to safely and responsibly carry out the mid-winter waterbird count during the difficult circumstances presented by the pandemic and in full compliance with the sanitary regulations currently in place.
This year’s WWD also marks 50 years from the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Cyprus’ two Salt Lakes, at Larnaka and Akrotiri, are declared Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance that enjoy protection and are visited every year by thousands of waterbirds and birds of prey. Both sites are found close to Larnaka and Limassol city centers, and although can be easily visited, their location means more pressure and threats to the environment.
Together with other governmental departments, services, foundations and NGOs, BirdLife Cyprus and the Game and Fauna Service are participating in LIFE IP Physis, a 10-year project dedicated to the protection and the proper management of all of our Natura 2000 sites. Among the project actions are to monitor and improve the conservation status of the qualifying bird species of the wetlands of Cyprus.
To mark World Wetlands Day, BirdLife Cyprus will be broadcasting live images and sounds from Oroklini Lake on Wednesday, 3 February 4pm. The broadcast will be done through BirdLife Cyprus’ Facebook Page and viewers will have the chance to enjoy afternoon moments at Oroklini Lake that is currently a refuge for many feathered winter visitors. More information about the broadcast can be found at the relevant event on Facebook.