The struggle goes on… what happened in 2016!
2016 has been a long and difficult year with its many ups and downs for environmental struggles in the Republic of Cyprus. The end of 2015 was a hint of what was to follow. From November onwards, it was clear that the 30 year struggle to save Akamas, was about to become more intense. And it did though it did not end at that. The environment and society was receiving multiple attacks. Using as a pretext the economic crisis, the Government was setting off on a journey to appropriate and exploit our natural commons: marinas, golf courses, quarries, large-scale developments with multiple uses and private camping sites were all included in this endeavor. 2016 is waving goodbye whilst we are hoping that the hard work of 2016 will bear fruits in 2017. Here is a short review of what we – all together did in 2016, but also what struggles we will be called to give in 2017.
SAVE AKAMAS CAMPAIGN
The struggle to save Akamas is clearly an issue of environmental and social justice and this was a matter we wanted to bring out. On the 12th of December 2015, Ministers and some of Cyprus’ most ruthless bussinessmen played Akamas on roulette!(kazantin)
…whilst on the first big demonstration on Akamas of this decade, the new year’s eve traditional vasilopitta was cut and handed out accordingly.
January 2016: The Ministerial Council Issues a Decision – Private Property will be excluded from the Akamas National Park, a new Local Spatial Plan will be prepared and all the previous Ministerial Decisions related to Akamas will be revised.
The protest outside the Presidential Palace on the 23rd of December created enough pressure for the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment to have to explain the Government’s plans at the House of Parliament on the 8th of January. Another protest was organised for the day:
and we even made it in the comedy show ‘Patates Antinaxtes’…
Unfortunately, the Government did not change its mind and the Ministerial Council went on to take the decision on the 11th of January 2016. We were outside the Presidential Palace on the day, to remind all Ministers that we hold all off them accountable for this decision.
On the 21st of January, we were outside the Forestry Department, whilst a discussion was going on for the limits of the Akamas National Forest Park, and in order to remind the Authorities that the protected area of the Akamas has been shrinking since the 2000’s and to reduce its area more puts the effectiveness of the reserve in danger.
The next day, on the 22nd of January 2016, we visited the Environment Department. It was hosting a meeting of the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee, and which was discussing the licensing of a camping place within the Akamas Natura 200 area and adjacent to the Baths of Aphrodite archaeological site. The approval of this development would go against the suggestion for the banning of overnight stays within the Natura 2000 area something which is considered to be to the benefit of the surrounding communities and it could be the beginning for the materialisation of many more developments within the reserve.
The camping site was not the only development for which plans have been submitted.
Vasileiou Development, Ayio Vouni, Peyia: Between December 2015 and January 2016, a massive development project is being proposed to be built within the municipality of Pegia, on what is known as Ayio Vouni (Sacred Mountain) on land which has a 32 per cent slope. Plans include multiple four-floor buildings with 145 apartments, plus 125 villas ans is being put forward as a ‘sustainable’ project. mainly because it also includes a small “research centre” on environment and health and an EU-funded zero-energy house model. People from the local council have described this as pseudo-sustainability. The Pegia Municipality has issued an objection against the project for socio-economic and safety reasons, though despite this, the environmental authorisation has been issued by the Environment Department in November 2016. There is still strong opposition against the planing and construction licenses.
Quarrying at Androlykou Gorges: Quarrying at this unique place within Akamas has been on-going since the 1990’s and has led to big ecological destruction including the destruction of one of the caves which was home of the rosette fruit bat, the most northerly living all fruit bats in the world!
In 2016 alone, three permits for quarrying within the Androlykou gorges, have been rejected, one is being currently examined and another one is expected to be examined in the coming months. Illegal expansion of existing quarries has also been identified, though no proper implementation of the law has taken place to ensure this does not happen in the future.
Actions to raise awareness and put pressure around the issue of the Akamas Peninsula included performances and concerts! Interventions were planned for the yearly Carnival Parades in Nicosia and Limassol:
The campaign peaked with the one day festival ‘Singing for Akamas’ organised by the ‘Cyprus Natural Coastline’ initiative, ‘Limassol Initiative for Akamas’ and ‘Save Akamas/ Save Cyprus’ and supported by the Ecological Movement Cyprus, Birdlife Cyprus, Friends of Akamas, Utopia Collectiva, Collective Seed Cyprus on Sunday 27 March 2016. The event took place at the amphitheatre of Molos (Limassol), between 12:00 – 22:00 with 14 local bands and DJs participating. Despite the cold and the wind, an impressive number of more than 5000 people attended the event who with their upbeat spirit managed to unite their voices and demand the protection of the Akamas peninsula.
Moreover, one of the groups that participated in the event, Monsieur Doumani, wrote and composed a song dedicated to Akamas. This song was presented for the first time to the public during the event:
NO GOLF AT LIMNI – SAVE THE TURTLES CAMPAIGN
Whilst the fight to save Akamas was ongoing, many new and old fronts were opened up. The plans for a massive Golf Course Development (with 2 golf courses and 792 luxury villas) by Cyprus Limni Resorts & Golfcourses Plc, a license for which was given by the Government in 2013 but was revoked after the European Commission sent a Reasoned Opinion and threatened to take the Republic of Cyprus to the European Court of Justice for failing to implement the environmental acqui! And instead of attempting to reduce the impacts on the Natura 2000 site, the new Master Plan included an additional 160-room hotel adjacent to the Natura 2000 site.
Despite public outcry, the Environmental Authority gave a positive Environmental Opinion in August 2016 and we are now waiting for the response of the European Commission.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF AYIA NAPA MARINA COMMENCES
During 2016, the Environmental Authority issued an Environmental Permit for the construction of Ayia Napa marina, a private endeavor, within the Ayia Thecla – Liopetri River Natura 2000 site. Construction for the marina has started though the European Commission has yet to approve the request for exemption on the grounds of the marina being a development that should be build within the Natura 2000 area due to reasons of overriding public interest (IROPY). Moreover, during 2016, the Ministerial Council legalised the illegal intervetion conducted by Sotera municipality and the creation of three beaches within the same area, plus the Environment Authority has given license for the construction of a massive tourist complex adjacent to the Natura 2000 site and only a few hundred metres from the planned marina. The Natura 2000 is in grave danger and unless some of these developments are stopped, it will soon reach the point of ‘no turning back’.
ILLEGAL COASTLINE INTERVENTIONS
In the region of Famagusta, the Paralimni municipality continued its destructive campaign against our natural coastlines, this time targeting Serena Bay, one of the most renown idyllic cove in the area.
ILLEGAL ALBINO GOAT FARM IN PAFOS FOREST
In May 2016, the Greek Hiking Society of Nicosia, came across an illegal albino goat farm obstructing one of Cyprus’ most famous hiking paths, that of the Venetian Bridges. It was discovered that the farm has been built illegally by the Abbey of Kykkos on land which though it is private and belongs to the Abbey, falls within an area of Special Area for Conservation, known as ‘the Hanoutari Cliffs’. The farm has been operating illegally, for almost 2 years now, with animals which have not been through the Veterinary Services check, and which are left to graze uncontrollably in the Paphos National Park, putting in danger not only the habitat itself, but also one of the most important Mouflon populations in Cyprus.
IT’S BACK – THE SEA AS REAL ESTATE
The last four months of 2016 have seen a number of attempts to institutionalise legal instruments which will pave the way for the privatisation of the sea. This was done through a bill which aims to give the Ministerial Council the right to declare as real estate, part of the sea / coastline which will be used as a mooring area something which will allow the creation of an uncontrollable number of private mooring station in front of hotels without ensuring open access to coastal spaces. Another bill aims to give the right to the Ministerial Council to declare an area created through land reclamation as real estate. This will allow the privatisation of beaches created for example on artificial islands, and it thus fills in the legal gap which until now made it difficult to license such projects. We remind you that there has been discussions for the creation of two artificial islands, in Yeroskipou, Paphos, and in Larnaca. Finally, another bill which aimed to recuce the coastal forest land from 500 to 100 meters re-emerged (from 2014). None of these bills have been passed though we are expecting the discussions in the Parliament to intensify in 2017.
These are only some of the most important struggles we were called to give in 2016. The struggles are still going on and we are hoping that 2017 will be a year where our right to the Commons is not one which we have to fight for, but one that comes as a given: an undisputable right of society, to the sea, the seashore, the mountains, the forest. A right that belongs to all and which will allow for a new society to emerge; a society with different ideals, and different goals, ones which ensure our social and environmental rights. And if 2017 will be the year our country will be reunited, then we are ready to join in the broader struggle (something that we are already trying to do), and start reclaiming the Commons with and for all all the living life-worlds on the island.1