Officials are set to discuss last week’s acacia tree removal in Paphos, following an outcry by critics who say big commercial interests are endangering sea turtle nesting sites.
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Last week the forestry department defended the removal of acacia trees in Limni, Polis Chrysochous, where crews cut down and burned the trees on site in areas including national forest beaches Gialia and Mavralis.
The Forestry Department issued a statement on Saturday saying that the Acacia saligna was considered one of the most invasive species in Cypriot natural habitats.
Criticism was centered on the need for protection of sea turtle nesting sites, as acacia trees had been blocking street lights and thus preventing hatchlings from being disoriented
“This species is viewed as a serious threat to the local ecosystem as well as other common and rare endangered species,” the department said.
But critics including environmental groups cried foul over the official account and cited "big commercial interests that were being served" by the removal of the acacias trees. Some of the allegations included the idea that holiday homes and villas in the area would gain unobstructed view of the ocean, which was not the case prior to the clearing of the trees.
Additional criticism was centered on the need for protection of sea turtle nesting sites, as acacia trees had been blocking street lights and minimising other kinds of intrusion to varying degrees and thus preventing hatchlings from being disoriented.
Officials say the removal of acacias trees took place ahead of the nesting season and new trees that are friendlier to the local ecosystem will be planted at the same location in the future.
As for the disorientation of hatchlings, Forestry department director Charalambos Alexandrou told local media that other “solutions can be found easily” on this issue that would make sure the baby turtles head for the sea and not inland. He also said the plan to remove the acacia trees was drafted three years earlier according to the Natura action plan for Polis- Gialia – Mavralis forest.
Supporters of the removal of the acacia trees, including a youth group in Polis Chrysochous, say the area will be cleaner and breathe ocean air.
But critics, including an investigation by daily Phileleftheros, pointed to what were described as faulty arguments in the forestry department’s statements, arguing that some of the removal took place at least five kilometres away from any species that could be under threat.
Officials from the forestry and environment departments, as well as the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research, were scheduled to visit the sites in question on Tuesday to ascertain whether the recent activities were conducted according to plan.
The auditor general’s office is also expected to request information regarding the overall action plan of the area and recent activities.