Article Three (of III)
Andreas C Chrysafis
A civilized country can be measured by the way it respects its citizens, its ecosystem but also the way people treat their own environment! The 230 square km Akamas Peninsula is one of those rare regions that cry out for help to be saved from the enemy within. Can it be saved? That depends entirely on people’s behaviour; to act or not act – to care or not to care!
Yet, Akamas offers a unique opportunity of becoming a gold mine – a “Jewel in the Med” others would say! The financial rewards are insurmountable not only for the government coffers but also for an eco-industry that can grow and bring amazing rewards. While compensating those that own land, Akamas should be established into a world-class National Land & Sea Park with zero tolerance to all kinds of development.
Unfortunately, the island so far has not established a good record protecting its environment! In fact, Akamas Protection Zone has failed the EU Natura 2000 Awards and Cyprus also ranked low at the Environmental Performance Index released in January 2016 at the World Economic Forum. Still, it has a rough diamond that cries out for refinement but nobody seems to be listening or caring. Under pressure from powerful lobby groups the government has tentatively approved a number of projects such as a massive quarry, camping site, hotels etc. for development directly in the Akamas peninsula.
For some, protecting the environment, wildlife and marine life means very little as opposed to wealth creation and yet, the peninsula is a gold mine in its own right. Some forget that’s what civilized nations do; take care of their environment! If properly maintained, a National Park can in fact generate revenues beyond expectations for local restaurants, lodgings, hotels, grocery shops and retail outlets.
If Akamas aspires to become a world-class park, it’s imperative to commission experts and brain imports together with top professional Cypriots to work as a team and design a well-planned conservation reserve. Hiring second-grade or politically appointed specialists will not do! It is critically important to learn from the experiences of other international parks and apply the same ecological know-how and technology to the Akamas project.
Operating such an important park comes the responsibility of maintenance and safeguarding the facilities from exploitation, vandalism and fly tipping. It is critically important that Park Wardens managing the facilities are given the legal authority to prosecute those who abuse the grounds in the similar way that other nations do.
The duties of professional Wardens or Custodians teams is to supervise, manage and perform functions in conservation areas such as biodiversity or scientific information; the development and operation of recreational programmes for the benefit of the visiting public; fire-fighting responsibilities and the ability to execute search-and-rescue missions as well as activities associated with law enforcement to investigate violations, complaints and trespassing including encroachment.
Some would dismiss such aspirations as an impossible task to be achieved in Cyprus. Rubbish! When other countries can operate and protect their national parks and heritage successfully, why not Cyprus? Akamas beckons to be tested and the government has to take the initiative and stand up to those that want to develop it and protect it for future generations.
Right across Europe parks are treated as national treasures and can generate not only national pride but also good revenue. Parks like the Wadden Sea National Park Denmark’s largest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a good example of that. The Lauwersmeer is another amazing site declared a national park on 12 November 2003.
The Nockberge Biosphere Park is a cultural treasure of the Carinthia Nockberge Mountains that proudly boasts as the biggest “UNESCO Biosphere Park Salzburger Lungau” park in all of Austria.
Meanwhile, the Parc Nationale des Calanques it is France’s 200 sq. miles of mixed land-and-sea reserve on the doorstep of Marseilles. A part of the maritime core is totally off-limits to fishing. It is the first mixed Sea and Land Park created in Europe and it’s a symbol of ecological conservation and marine biodiversity that attracts millions of tourists each year.
The list is endless and people enjoy visiting these national parks across Europe, England and Canada, the United States and in other progressive countries. Can Akamas become a world-class park? Absolutely! There is no valid reason as to why Akamas cannot become an amazing nature reserve like all the others.
The Akamas Land & Sea Park
One of the best attributes of the region, it’s the Akamas coastline. Sadly, marine life in the region is steadily been reduced by pollution, sewage dumping and by irresponsible practices of commercial and private fishing. Even so, the region itself offers a rare opportunity to change all that and help develop a national eco-park of unique dimensions in conservationism. The rewards of a combined Land and Sea park are immeasurable.
If Akamas is to be a true national park, it cannot be emphasized enough that all hunting sporting activities must end to help rejuvenate the fast depleting wildlife; prohibit any kind of fishing or motor boats within a protective marine zone to help restore the fish supplies and underwater sea life; all kinds of safari vehicles, noisy quads and other rental operators to be licensed under strict terms and conditions and be obliged to follow selected routes with speed-controls; provide proper facilities for picnic areas and a well-organized camping site; offer parking facilities at designated areas; establish safe trails to gorges and other points of interests; allow a strictly controlled number of food & beverage outlets to cater to visitors including resting areas and toilet facilities; establish eco-friendly buildings including an eco-museum to educate the visiting public and school children on the importance of conservation; provide on-site scientific amenities for research by scientists and universities in biodiversity.
Some would say it would cost millions! On the contrary it would make millions through tax-concessions, donations, marketing, EU Funding, UNESCO contributions and attendance fees, licensing and other income: that’s what normally self-sustained national parks do!
In fact, it would create hundreds of new jobs and generate agro-tourism at its best attracting repeat visits by thousands of nature and sea lovers, but also education workshops for foreign and domestic students. The benefits are immeasurable as long as the park it’s operated professionally by dedicated personnel hired on merit and not connections.
Most importantly, once a political decision has been made in support to protect Akamas, the political influence should end and be replaced by a National Trust Fund that would operate the Akamas Land & Sea Park with one aim in mind: for the enhancement and well being of the park on the basis of meritocracy with full transparency and accountability.
Indeed, it’s a major project and demands a massive undertaking with critical decisions taken by dedicated top experts to see that it becomes a reality. If not, Akamas will end up like any other selective jungle of concrete boxes in the interest of private investors and not in the interest of the future generations.
For this unique Akamas Land and Sea project to become a reality, it needs national pride and the support of the people.
Andreas C Chrysafis
September 14, 2016