Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cyprus: Exploratory River Survey

Mid April 2012.

Having spent ten days surveying rivers and wetlands in Cyprus, I think I should start off by explaining what I do. I want to inform friends and students of Natural History on aspects of our team's method. Obviously, this is not a scientific paper or report, I'll just try to briefly explain part of the day-job, the intrigue, the fascination we have with nature exploration in inland waters. 

Firstly, "exploratory field survey"' is nowadays a very scarce experience in Europe. It is the kind of survey where your team is the FIRST to search-out something specific over an extensive area for the FIRST time. Its pioneering Natural History survey. In Cyprus our team and associated local researchers  search for the following:

  •  Fish in inland waters: There is no published or layman's report on any report of any kind on the inland waters ichthyofauna of Cyprus (excluding our team's recent interim reports for this specific project!). Cyprus is said to have about 20 species of fish; most are non-indigenous. One of the island's rarest, most threatened and most mysterious vertebrates is a fish (the River Blenny). 

  • Amphibians: Although the island has only three anuran species, their ecology and specific distributions have not been well studied; and there is still poor knowledge of their habitat requirements besides other basic natural history aspects. Of course, they have never been used as environmental indicators of any sort on Cyprus. 

  • Wetlands: Natural or artificial wet inland habitats where shallow waters, or periodic flooding create conditions with wetland vegetation or wet/wetland soils are biodiversity oases in a dry island such as Cyprus. A broader definition would include temporary lakes and ponds, or pooling shallow waters of any kind, small temporarily wet patches of ground, even shallow marine embayments and lagoon-like transitional waters of all kinds. No completed inventory of Cyprus wetlands exists. 

  • Stream or River Condition: This refers to the ecological state or integrity or generally the health of rivers and streams. Cyprus is obligated by the EU to assess all its stream water bodies using environmental (and biological) indicators. Generally, because the "rivers" of Cyprus are mostly intermittently flowing, most past researches didn't consider them "rivers" at all, and this issue is very poorly researched. Also the former or near-natural state of these rivers is poorly understood. What is a natural river in a land with such humanized landscapes - and so many modern dams (108 dams!!!). 
Doing field research is unique here due to Cyprus' peculiar geo-political and historical situation. Cyprus is located in the Middle East but it joined the EU in 2004. Before that, inland waters research was totally anthropocentric: few considered biodiversity in the waters. Cyprus has been through a lot of troubles - there is pain here. The island-state could maybe be excused for re-locating its international airport on a major wetland after its normal airport became dysfunctional when the country was invaded by the Turkish Armed Forces in 1974. Generally the main issue for the Republic during the last few decades has been dealing with a de facto divided-state situation and managing a myriad problems related to this disturbing un-resolved international conflict. Cyprus is difficult to navigate for a Greek national like myself: About 37% of the northern part of the island is like an "occupied territory" under a self-proclaimed Turkish administration recognized only by Turkey; 6% of the country is in a UN-controlled Buffer Zone (known as the "Dead Zone" by Greek Cypriots), and large areas are within British Sovereign Military Bases and associated installations. Oftentimes, working in the field here feels like being near a war zone - a "cold-war" feeling can be pervasive. 

So what am I doing on Cyprus? Basically I'm fortunate enough to be working on a government-funded project exploring aquatic nature here. In this work, the priority is to explore the potential for assessing river ecological conditions using fishes as environmental indicators. Our team includes prestigious Portuguese scientists also; and we work with many many locals... In fact without the local inhabitats, both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot naturalists and students we would have been completely lost. Often locals come along to help us. The day-to-day river survey calls for carrying with us a load of sampling equipment, nets, boots, protocol field sheets - all packed into a huge 4X4 jeep. We use Google Earth and a GPS Navigator a lot to find potential survey sites. When we locate a representative site on a river - we "electrofish" a typical stretch of the river (usually about 100-200 meters segment walking upstream). We catch-release nearly all organisms - but some fish are sacrificed for lab investigations back in Athens. We record many parameters in this stretch of river: In-stream habitat and riparian condition, and some other mega-wildlife species, especially amphibians, reptiles and the Cypriot freshwater crab. And we record anthropogenic pressures - damage to the environment at the site and river segment scale. All this takes time - roughly about two hours per site. Since NO ONE has ever done this before on Cyprus, it is totally exploratory - which means at many sites we don't know what we will encounter. Often times, there are exciting moments: getting totally lost, treating small injuries, extricating ourselves from impenetrable reed-cane thickets, being swept away by a river, trying to avoid land-mines near hostile territory....and finally, finding a lot of fascinating wildlife. 

Photos below are from the mid-April 2012 trip where the water levels and flow were at a remarkably high state - this happens probably every 15 years or so on the island - a special year.  And finally we found eels in many places...
Kryos near Kouris Dam.

Avakas stream in the Akamas.

Small rivulet pushing through Pissuri Beach.

Searching for Eel under a bridge - Tremithos - no luck!

Carp at Moni quarry pit.
Using the fry net on a rainy day at Diarizos rivermouth!

Chapotami Rivermouth on a lovely April afternoon.

With DFMR team at the Ezousas - mid April river was huge.

Germasogeia River below the Dam in Mid April - water flowing and eels present!

Pouzi river mouth near Larnaka.
With Haris exploring Oroklini, near Larnaka.

Ioulianos and Kostas from DFMR - they helped lots.

Amazing situation of the Kouris trickling towards the sea.

Fish farm ditch near Kouklia with Eel presnt!

Chapotami flowing to the sea - many eels upstream found.

Fry net catch at Moni stream - mugilids and Sea Bass.

A small stream near Moni - flowing to the sea!

Beach pool fed by Avakas stream - eels do enter...

Tremithos - no fishes here!

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