This article was first published on page 15 of The Cyprus Weekly (2 March).
The Karpas Peninsula is one of Cyprus’ natural beauties. Since 1974 the region is mostly remembered as the last bastion of the Greek Cypriot enclaved persons. It fleetingly receives attention for other reasons too. In recent weeks, the media focus has been on Archbishop Chrysostomos’ renewed interest in the restoration of the Apostolos Andreas Monastery. However, one of the effects of the division is that while publicity generated by a public figure sheds light on one aspect of life, it tends to overshadow other issues of equally vital importance.
In recent months plans were announced for the building of a large petroleum storage station on the unspoiled shoreline close to the village of Efta Komi. A successful campaign by civil society, led the Lefke Environmental Society had averted the building of the station near the village of Lefka in August of last year. However, the Swiss-backed investment project identified Karpas as the next ideal location, and the area has been declared a so-called “Free Zone”, allowing the construction company unrestricted access to the area.
The plans for the petroleum terminal carry great risks not only for the island’s biodiversity but for the entire eastern Mediterranean, both in the short and long-term. Large areas of the Peninsula are classified as protected zones, and form part of the European Natura 2000-Network. A number of species are under threat should plans go ahead, including endemic birds such as the Cyprus Warbler and Cyprus wheatear, as well as peregrine falcons and alpine swifts.
In this vacuum of legality and accountability, civil society has stood up to the task. A coalition of Turkish Cypriot non-governmental organisations (NGOs), spearheaded by the Green Action Group and the Biologists’ Association, has started an awareness-raising campaign aimed at sensitising Cypriots about the disastrous effects that the building of this station will have for the island and the region. “What will be the impact of a leak or an explosion at the station?”, asks Salih Gücel, a member of the Biologists’ Association. “No one can answer this. This area is prone to strong winds and currents. The whole of the northern coastline of Cyprus, and the wider eastern Mediterranean region, could be affected by a leak or explosion at the plant.”
The area is also a nesting place for Cyprus Green turtles, and the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), once declared extinct by the Fisheries Department, is also at great risk. “Research has shown that in recent years the seals have been breeding on the shores of Cyprus”, says Osman Kalfaoğlu, a journalist who has been following the issue. “Aside from all its other disastrous effects, the building of the station would destroy the few remaining breeding places for the seals, laying the ground for their extinction”, added Kalfaoğlu.
On an island still divided, civil society has emerged as the most important vehicle through which to convey the concerns and issues which affect all Cypriots.