Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ecotourism in Cyprus in Winter

January 10,11,12 2014

We spent three days in Southeast Cyprus in mid-January. At around this time, the famous "Alkyon Days" take place: a true lull in winter with spring-like conditions. On the 12/1 the temp reached 20 C at Oroklini (a coastal resort area 7 kms east of Larnaka). What a getaway from icy Europe....

Although most of our time was spent at Oroklini - I would like to take this opportunity to discus ecotourism in the region, with Larnaka as a base. Ecotourism development is surely a difficult concept in an area as notoriously over-build as southeast Cyprus. I mean, everyone knows Agia Napa etc; who can conceive that this area still has a chance to save itself from overdevelopment?

Well maybe....just maybe the nature attractions can spawn the alternative to an increasing mass tourism monopoly. The key in my mind is saving "nature-places" and stringent planning for landscape conservation. And saving nature-places will keep this tourist region interesting, dynamic and alive in a tourism development sense as well. Oroklini is a fine example of a kind of "nature attraction rejuvenation" in a heavily built-up coast near Larnaka (see However Oroklini is a specific site-scale project for birds and habitats - perhaps tourism can also be an incentive to save and re-create, or plan for biodiversity conservation on a broader scale. The Oroklini Life Project is a pioneering first step; it has done amazing things here and I think these are definately a real boost for the tourism image of the wider area (Oroklini/Pyla coast - Larnaka). Tourism must come into play as a partner for conservation.

More practically now:
There are in fact many attractions for nature travelers in the south-east of Cyprus in winter - and if we desire an "alternative tourism development pathway" we do need several attractions. We need to build accessible nature into tourism.

Let me just give you a sense of what we experienced, focusing on the "nature attractions":

1) We stayed at a hotel next to Dikelia Sovereign Base Area near Pyla. Beautiful long sand beach, crystal clear water (much warmer than the Saronic Gulf in Athens). Beautiful for beach runs and walks in the morning. Very close to the top local birding spot: Oroklini Lake.

2) Oroklini Lake is a mini-paradise for birding. It can be birded by just two car-stops and/or walked (explored in-depth easily). You see nearly all the bird species present easily since it is a "small wetland site".  Fortunately it is now fenced so disturbance will be limited. It is beautiful. Easy to see over 30 species of birds at one visit, quickly in mid-winter. (We worked on fish sampling here...for three days: But boy was it hard to keep the binocs off birds).

3) Achna Lake is a natural-looking water-scape, an artificial reservoir in rolling plains. Full of birds - really birdy always. We had great views of over 30 Spur-winged Lapwings, wintering waterfowl, a Booted Eagle (amazingly rare to see this species in mid winter on Cyprus!!!).

4) Potamos Liopetri. Really great area for photography and beach-walking. Authentic attraction.

5) Paralimni Lake. Although I did not visit this time (I heard water levels were low) - it is an easy skip from Agia Napa, Liopetri or Cavo Greko. The "Sotira Pools" perrenial ponds are always full life and interest. An easy stroll from the road-side in a wetland oasis.

6) Kavo Greko. Stupendous view at the rocky hill-top of cape Kavos. Wild narcissus in full flower on the rocks - what an exotic thing to see and smell!

7) Larnaka Salt Lakes. Amazing sunset, the ancient Hala Sultan mosque a unique landmark. All this just minutes before flying off from the adjacent airport.

I should mention that this ecotouring 'survey' is obviously incomplete. My wife, Vasso and I were in Cyprus for work (BirdLife Cyprus). We met up with friends Melpo Apostolidou from BirdLife, Iakovos Tzortzis, Athina Papatheodoulou and Lefkios Stergiou. We thank our friends for taking us around during side-trips.

Some snap-shots from the trip follow. Most of these photos are from Oroklini, obviously. And you can see we were "working" in the mud (dragging fry-nets and wearing chest-waders). But the landscapes and weather conditions were sensational - and trips from Oroklini to nearby wildlife spots area very easy. The photos of the Spur-winged Lapwings (among dead Tilapia) and the Booted Eagle with hooded crows are from Nearby Lake Achna (the Village church is also from Achna, in occupied territory, a vivid reminder that we are in...Cyprus).