An extraordinary turtle nesting beach in Cyprus faces a make-or-break decision by EU environment chief Karmenu Vella that will determine whether threatened turtles can continue to breed successfully there.
Limni beach is part of Polis Gialia, a small but highly significant stretch of sand in Cyprus. Being a breeding ground for Loggerhead turtles, the stretch has been designated as terrestrial and marine Natura 2000 site protected by EU nature laws. It hosts a quarter of all Cyprus’s Loggerhead turtle nests: making it one of Europe’s most important for this threatened animal. However, Cyprus has given the go-ahead to build a large multimillion-euro tourism project adjacent to the beach, Limni Bay Resort, massively threatening the turtle breeding site. Commissioner Vella is now the only person who could ensure the beach remains safe for turtle breeding.
The planned ‘signature’ golf courses, 160-room hotel, and 800 villas extending close to the beach front threaten the turtle nesting, both from increased human disturbance, and the effect of light pollution near the animals' nests. Newly-hatched turtles easily become disoriented by lights on land from buildings and developments, and end up stranded instead of making their way out to sea.
The European Commission, the Bern Convention, and turtle experts have all recommended a no-building buffer zone 500-metres from the beach. However, under intense pressure from business and politicians, Cyprus has instead issued a permit that would move the resort much closer to the sea, halving the buffer zone to only 220m. Such close proximity of buildings and light pollution, combined with high numbers of beach-goers, would harm turtle hatchlings.
Cyprus claims the lighting and visitor disturbance can be managed – however no controls can really be counted on to restrict beach visitors; and light pollution will never be minimised to equal the current pristine conditions.
Friends of the Earth Cyprus, together with other Cypriot and European NGOs, has asked Commissioner Vella to step in as nature's last chance. To protect rare nesting turtles in line with full implementation of the EU nature laws, the EU Commission should take legal measures to ensure Cyprus implements the 500-metre no-building zone. A decision is expected in the coming days or weeks.