The Fisheries Department on Tuesday defended its turtle protection programme while expressing regret over the way Argaka’s community leader and members of the local community had behaved towards experts who had gone to the turtle nesting beach to place protective cages on nests.
The statement follows an uproar after community leader Spyros Pelopidas tried to stop the team from going about their work, to the astonishment of the foreign experts who had come to Cyprus to observe an educational programme on turtle protection being implemented here in cooperation with the Council of Europe.
Also looking on was a representative from the permanent committee on the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wild Life and Natural Habitats of the Council of Europe.
At one point, the community leader stood over a nest and would not allow the placing of the cage claiming that there were no turtle eggs there. Police intervened to prevent an escalation.
The scenes prompted Disy leader Averoff Neophytou, who is from Argakas, to issue a statement clarifying that the nesting of the loggerhead and green turtles were a ‘blessing’ and it was a big advantage that it occurred in those areas of Paphos.
“It gives us additional value, both locally and Cyprus more generally,” he said.
The following day Pelopidas told CyBC radio that the council should be present when the turtle protection team goes to the beach, so as to monitor the actual number of nests.
In a written statement on Tuesday, the Fisheries Department said that the specific turtle protection programme has been implemented since 2010 after open bids with a budget of €20,000. Were the work to be carried out by government officials, it would cost much more, it said.
The contract covers the period May to December and the coast from Limassol to Pyrgos Tylliria with special focus on the turtle nesting beaches on Lara-Toxeftra and Polis-Yiala. Payment is not related to the number of nests, as was mistakenly stated recently said, it clarified. Other coastal areas are also covered if the need arises, it said.
The programme is run by the NGO Cyprus Wildlife Society with stringent criteria as regards qualifications and experience — thus the department categorically denied that there were ulterior motives in awarding the contract to specific individuals.
It also clarified that the experts and the department itself had never objected to the presence of the public as they worked.
“Any behaviour or action which prevents the process and intervenes in the work to protect sea turtles is unacceptable and to be condemned,” it said
Cyprus’ turtle protection programme is recognised at European and international level as one of the most successful programmes to protect biodiversity and has been implemented for 40 years, leading to a steady rise in the turtle population.
The long term effort and implementation of the protection programme is key to the results as turtles need at least 20 years to mature. In fact their conservation at Mediterranean level is considered unfavourable-bad but in Cyprus it is described as favourable, it added.
The department concluded by saying it was ready to work with local communities to protect sea turtles which are a valuable element of the natural heritage of the region.