"S.O.S. Akrotiri Wetland Complex"
Under this title, the Cyprus Green Party organised on 19 June 2002 a seminar on the ecology of the Akrotiri wetland complex and on health and environmental issues related to the large antennas, already installed or planned, inside this important wetland area. The Ramsar Bureau was invited to present the Convention's approach to wetland conservation as a means for sustainable development (cf. mission report below). The seminar brought together 60 or so participants for a programme of very substantive presentations on the special characteristics of the Akrotiri wetland complex, ranging from hydro-geology, ecosystems, flora and fauna, to archaeological sites and possible long-term electro-magnetic radiation effects of high power antennas.
Akrotiri peninsula is situated on the southern shore of the island of Cyprus. It is a British Sovereign Base Area with a Royal Air Force base installed on its southern promontory. Between two tombolo beaches, linking the rocky promontory with the Cyprus mainland, extends a unique wetland area, composed of the famous Akrotiri salt lake, the extensive Phasouri reedbeds and grazing marshes, saltmarshes, and open coastal areas linking the different habitats together. The site is of outstanding biodiversity value, harbouring several rare species. It is an important refueling station for migrating waterbirds, of which the most evocative are greater flamingos and demoiselle cranes, and a wintering ground for Eurasian geese and ducks. Akrotiri salt lake is only comparable to the Republic of Cyprus's first Ramsar Site, Larnaca salt lake. It has therefore to be applauded that the British High Commission in Cyprus and the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated jointly that the site should be declared by the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Ramsar Administrative Authority) as a Wetland of International Importance. Indeed, it is in such situations, where a wetland extends over the territories of more than one Contracting Party, or where a water system is shared between them, that the Ramsar Convention provides a useful legal framework for a coordinated approach to conservation and wise use.
The Sovereign Base Area Administration is currently preparing an environmental management plan, in consultation with the Environment Service of the Cyprus Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment (the Ramsar Administrative Authority in Cyprus). A nature reserve should be designated in the core zone, as well as specific zoning applied to the surrounding areas, in order to integrate the requirements for sustainable use of the wetland resources by the local population of Akrotiri village. To this end, the Ramsar Bureau wishes all stakeholders, at local and national level, in Cyprus and in the UK, the foresight, diplomacy and wisdom to find the best possible solutions in this complex, political, administrative and ecological context.
-- reported by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar Bureau.
Photos: Phasouri grazing marshes with antenna installations, contested by Cypriot opponents, in the background.