A report by the audit office slams the forestry department for removing acacia trees very close to turtle nests earlier this year, just as another confrontation between locals and conservationists in a nearby area is gaining traction.
(Click here for an update to the story)
The Audit Office posted online on Wednesday a report over the removal of acacia trees and dunes earlier this year, when state bulldozers cleared an area in Mavralis national park, Paphos district.
In March, 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.
Critics who cried foul over the incident also pointed out that an area with acacia trees was offering protection to sea turtle nesting sites, as acacia trees had been blocking street lights and minimising noise and other types of intrusion, thus preventing hatchlings from being harmed or disoriented.
The Forestry Department had issued a statement immediately following criticism over the incident, saying that the Acacia saligna was considered one of the most invasive species in Cypriot natural habitats.
But the audit report found that the tree removal took place without proper authorization or advanced planning, noting that the project was carried out at a time that was “not the most appropriate” as it was too close to the start of nesting season.
“The time was not the most suitable as it was just a month and a half away from the sea turtle nesting season and this would not provide enough time for restoration projects in the area,” the report said.
It also emerged from the report that there had been no planned procedure in place regarding the cutting down and burning of acacia trees in a way that would have been the most effective.
The report also pointed fingers at Fisheries and Marine Research, saying the department was ultimately responsible for the systematic monitoring of sea turtles and their reproductive activities in Cyprus.
Earlier this month, a group of European experts in a sea turtle conservation programme was confronted by locals in Argaka beach, near the area in question, who prevented them from checking and marking locations in the sand associated with turtle hatchlings.
Police who arrived at the scene reportedly asked the experts to leave in an effort to avoid escalation, while parts of the confrontation were captured on video.
Activists and environmentalists slammed law enforcement over the incident, calling on state authorities to protect the team of experts in carrying out their tasks.
It was alleged in media reports that some locals were not in favour of protecting sea turtles due to other commercial interests in the area.
The team of experts, as heard in statements made by a member who was captured on video, had been given permission from the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research to carry out their conservation work.