Forestry Department Defends Tree Burning Actions Near Turtle Beach (Update)

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The forestry department said on Saturday it had done the right thing by bulldozing and burning acacia trees along an approximately 700-meter strip of Mavralis state forest, which bordered protected sea turtle spawning beaches. from Limni and Argakas in the bay of Chysochous.

The news sparked outrage and concern about the effects on the turtle population. The Green Party said there was “reasonable suspicion that this brutal ‘cleaning’ of vegetation on a beach with nesting turtles is designed to meet the demands of major interests in a tourism project.”

According to reports, just a month before the start of the marine turtle nesting season, the forestry department removed a long strip of state forest made up mostly of acacia trees through the use of vehicles from heavy construction in Poland. Yialia area.

The area, which is part of the European Natura 2000 network of protected areas, is one of the most important breeding sites in the Mediterranean for the endangered loggerhead turtle (Caretta Caretta).

Although acacias are considered an invasive alien species, which was also reported by the forest service, the specific strip of trees had served as a much-needed protective barrier for baby sea turtles as the trees blocked light sources. emanating from the adjacent and nearby road. buildings. Lighting near shore can confuse hatchlings and cause them to wander inland rather than heading out to sea. If they go in the wrong direction, they risk dehydration and predation.

In an announcement on Saturday, following a wave of media reports and a public outcry on social media, the forestry department said the elimination of acacia trees, which it said are considered to be the one of the most invasive species for natural habitats, as well as for endemic, rare and endangered species of Cyprus, have been rightly eliminated.

The department noted that while acacias began to be planted about 40 years ago to stabilize coastal dunes, and not as a measure to protect sea turtles, the tree species was later rated as a threat during the integration of the area into the Natura 2000 network. Efforts to eliminate acacias were launched in September 2017 in parts of Cyprus, the department noted.

Friday’s withdrawal, which ironically ended on International Day of Forests on March 21, was carried out without a proper assessment (AA), which is used to assess the potential negative effects of a plan or project on protected areas, media reported. , according to reports. The forestry department’s announcement did not contain any denial. Whether the forest service had the necessary licenses to allow tree cutting also remained unclear in the statement.

Although the department said the Scientific Committee on Nature was briefed on the launch of the acacia logging in 2017, the head of the department, Charalambos Alexandrou, told media earlier in the week that the department had in obtained permission to cut acacia trees. Yialia State Forest, located four to five kilometers from Mavralis State Forest and Limni Bay.

Additionally, Alexandrou later told Phileleftheros that a 150-meter strip of acacia trees from the state forest adjacent to Limni Bay had been removed, although photographic documentation of the work shows that the forestry department removed nearly five times the amount indicated, before planting trees. on fire in place, causing a dense cloud of smoke over the community of Argakas and leaving behind piles of ash and charcoal with unpredictable effects on the biotope.

The forestry department said that “the fact that acacias offered protection to marine turtle species has been taken into account,” noting that the removal of trees was carried out before the breeding season and therefore would not have ‘immediate effect.

He said that as an immediate measure, an opaque fence will be installed to block out light sources, while tree planting will follow in the future.

However, in addition to not mentioning the damage to the biotope by the heavy excavation equipment on the beach that compacted the coastal dunes, the forestry service announcement also did not address the reasons for the burning of the trees. cut on the protected site, where even small campfires are prohibited.

At the end of January, the European Commission’s infringement case against Cyprus regarding the controversial Limni Bay project was closed, officially giving the green light to development after reviewing the project’s environmental conditions and building permits in order to incorporate the various mitigation measures, although it is not clear whether this week’s actions by the forestry department meet the terms of the European Commission.

The development provides for the construction of two 18-hole golf courses, two clubhouses, a luxury hotel with 160 rooms, 800 villas and other accommodation, leisure facilities, cycle paths and a museum, to be built next to the Natura-2000 protected site. beaches.


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