The Akrotiri Peninsula is a unique wetland and is home to many wonderful birds, plants and habitats protected under national and European laws. Now a huge casino-resort proposed for development in the area looms at the expense of nature. While media coverage has very much focused on the economic and job creation benefits of this touristic development, very little has been said about the environmental impacts of this huge project on the peninsula and its wildlife. These have, sadly, been brushed away, in the name of profit.
The project is being proposed next to the most important wetland of our island, Akrotiri Salt Lake, and also within an area that has been recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and which should therefore have been protected as a Natura 2000 site for its outstanding importance for the Red-footed Falcon. This graceful long-distance traveller visits our island every spring and autumn and uses the area to roost and feed during migration. In Europe and throughout the world, conservation efforts have been in place to protect it as its population is declining. A project of this size will lead to the loss of valuable habitat not only for the Red-footed Falcon, but for also many other species, such as the Eleonora’s Falcon, with possibly irreversible consequences.
The setting of the foundation stone for this huge casino-resort is scheduled on Friday, 8 June and the President of Cyprus is invited. However, the environmental impact assessment has not yet been completed and there is no sign of the extra, appropriate assessment called for when developments loom close to Natura 2000 sites, which the Akrotiri Peninsula is.
Shockingly, the consultants that undertook the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study on behalf of the casino development company are ignoring and denying the presence of the two falcon species in the area. Even worse, their study concludes that ‘there would be no adverse impact, that the self-contained resort would be built within an urban zoning area and that the part in dispute did not have protected wildlife’. This is most certainly not the case. Numerous studies highlight the importance of the area, which the developer and the consultants undertaking the EIA choose to dispute and ignore. The EIA study was insufficient and of low quality on multiple issues: impacts on protected bird species, bird monitoring surveys, assessment of cumulative effects, loss of very good irrigated agricultural land, just to name a few. One can only question the credibility and robustness of this EIA study when it concludes that this massive casino project, built next to the Akrotiri wetland, will not have any adverse impacts on the environment.
Another issue is the mosquito nuisance, which is already a serious problem for the surrounding villages. Mosquito experts have already warned that the introduction of this huge casino resort in a mosquito abundant area will be a major issue, something which has not been addressed adequately in the EIA study. The mosquito nuisance to future casino visitors will more-than-likely result in pressure to drain the surrounding protected wetlands (mosquito breeding grounds) such as Zakaki Marsh.
BirdLife Cyprus is not against development, provided an appropriate environmental assessment is undertaken and that there are no serious negative impacts on protected species and habitats. Sadly, over the last few months, we have been witnessing development ‘popping up’ and illegal activities taking place in a number of protected areas, while environmental assessment procedures are either ‘fast-tracked’ or bypassed in favour of short-term economic growth. The Zakaki casino-resort development, apparently set to be one of the biggest in Europe, is yet another example of this frantic development ‘race’ at the expense of our protected areas and species.
We are extremely worried that we are witnessing the gradual fragmentation and degradation of one of the most valuable Important Bird Areas and the most important wetland of our island. We will continue the fight to protect it. We are calling on the government to respect the laws and follow the appropriate procedures set in place, in order to safeguard and conserve our most treasured natural areas not just for now, but for generations to come.