Water is essential to people and an indispensable life source for birds and biodiversity in general. Wetlands provide food for a wide diversity of life, protect us from floods and other extreme weather events, improve water quality by absorbing pollutants, act as carbon sinks and can provide significant benefits for communities if their tourism potential is realized. Cyprus boasts a number of natural and artificial wetlands, some of which are very important for breeding, migrating and wintering birds as well as wider biodiversity.
What is the problem?
Despite its important role in keeping the planet alive, only 1% of it is fresh (in other words not seawater) and accessible (in other words not locked up in glaciers and ice caps). Even less is unaffected by pollution by industries, agriculture and climate change and not claimed by too many people.
If we continue on this path, everything will be affected – from small things in our day-to-day lives we take for granted, to keeping entire industries going. It will also affect all the countless species that rely on freshwater ecosystems for their survival.
This is an issue that concerns our island too. Cyprus’ freshwater ecosystems are also under great threat. Cyprus’ few and precious wetlands have been threatened for decades by development, pollution and poorly controlled and irresponsible use of water.
What is the solution?
The effective management and protection of water resources, particularly wetlands, should be a priority for Cyprus. Through the EU water law (Water Framework Directive – WFD) Member States agreed to put an end to the destruction of water sources. Better implementation is however required. Additionally, wetland sites of great importance for biodiversity that have been designated as Natura 2000 sites can potentially enjoy stricter protection and management if there is willingness for all the tools found in the European Directive to be properly used.
What are we doing about it?
Our work focuses on preserving and improving the status of wetlands through policy, research, education, awareness-raising and project-based work.
On the national level
- We are lobbying for the proper protection and sympathetic management of important wetland areas in Cyprus, notably the network of wetlands found in Akrotiri Peninsula, Oroklini Lake, Paralimni Lake, Larnaca Salt Lakes and other biodiversity-rich wetland sites.
- We are monitoring wetland Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas on a monthly basis by conducting wetland bird counts, to keep track of the state of our birds found in these important areas.
- More recently, through our involvement in the LIFE IP Physis Project, we are taking part in actions with a strong link to wetland protection and management such as targeted field research for key wetlands species, water management studies and practical conservation actions for some of the most important wetlands, among other activities.
- We have been part of two large-scale site restoration projects in two IBAs/SPAs during the last decade: the LIFE Oroklini Project (2012-2015) and the Akrotiri Marsh Project (2015-2017) for the restoration and management of these important wetlands. These project successes were the result of working closely with relevant departments and other stakeholders and stand testament to the work that has been done to help these sites bounce back to life, giving birds and other wildlife a place to thrive in and people the opportunity to enjoy them. We are now part of a third project which aims to restore important habitats in Akrotiri and Cape Pyla (2021-2024).
- We worked for the restoration of Mia Milia wetlands together with KUŞKOR, the Turkish Cypriot Society for the Protection of Birds and Nature, to tackle the threat to breeding birds at the site posed by predators such as foxes and feral cats.
- We act as watchdogs, through our network of dedicated members or through reports from the public, for illegal or unapproved interventions in Natura 2000 sites with a strong focus on wetland sites, raising the alarm with the government and the public.
- We are promoting the benefits to wetland protection by organizing awareness-raising and educational events at wetlands.
On the European level
- We joined forces with WWF, BirdLife Europe, the European Environment Bureau and other European NGOs, and coordinated Cyprus’ contribution in the #ProtectWater Campaign in 2019. The aim of the campaign was to save the WFD from being weakened, as part of a fitness check done by the European Commission for this Directive. More than 375.000 people joined their voices asking the Commission to keep the law strong and to promote better implementation. On 22 June 2020, the Commission announced that the Directive will remain as it is, as it concluded that it is fit for purpose.