On Friday 26th February, NEPOMAK hosted the second of its series of environmental webinars, in collaboration with the Presidential Commissioner of Cyprus, Photis Photiou, and the Environmental Commissioner of Cyprus, Klelia Vasiliou. After a successful first webinar on “Blue Growth”, the focus of the second webinar was wildlife and biodiversity.
The purpose of NEPOMAK’s series of environmental webinars is to familiarise the Cypriot diaspora with environmental challenges facing Cyprus and the efforts being made on the island to combat these challenges. The webinars also create an opportunity for NEPOMAK members and environmental experts to share ideas and look at ways to cooperate to assist Cyprus’ efforts against climate change.
Wildlife & Biodiversity
To discuss wildlife and biodiversity, NEPOMAK’s members were joined by two young Cypriot environmentalists: Marios Aristophanous, an entomologist and ecologist, and Constantinos Antoniou, a wildlife vet and conservationist.
Constantinos Antoniou’s presentation focussed on some of the challenges and threats to wildlife in Cyprus. He cited lack of environmental consciousness amongst the public, a lack of legal protections for wildlife, pollution, invasive species, poaching, urbanisation and exploitation as the major threats to Cypriot wildlife. He noted that Mouflon were once almost extinct until the Cypriot Government introduced heavy fines for anyone who killed one.
Asked specifically about whether tourism is a danger to Cypriot wildlife, Mr Antoniou emphasised that tourism can actually benefit wildlife conservation if guided properly by experts. In fact, ecotourism is a growing feature of Cyprus’ tourism strategy and has created opportunities for people to experience more of the island’s nature.
Mr Antoniou said that some of the top priorities for Cypriot conservationists are improving education about environmental issues in schools, introducing programmes to tackle invasive species, setting clear and reasonable limits on the development and urbanisation of environmentally sensitive areas.
NEPOMAK members were eager to hear about how the diaspora can help support conservation work in Cyprus. Mr Antoniou said that the diaspora could “become ambassadors for the good environmental work that is taking place in Cyprus,” by raising awareness of Cypriot conservation projects. He also said that there are volunteering opportunities, and that diaspora Cypriots could set a good example of responsible and sustainable behaviour when visiting Cyprus.
Marios Aristophanous gave a presentation on the importance of biodiversity using insects, his expertise, as a way of highlighting the interconnectivity of all species. He noted that insects are a vital foundation of any ecosystem, as pollinators of plants, as a food source for other animals, as producers of materials such as silk and honey, and as contributors to soil quality. Insects are so important to ecosystems and so successful at what they do that they account for at least 80% of animal species.
Mr Aristophanous also explained that approximately 10% of Cyprus’ known flora and fauna are endemic, meaning that they are native to the island. He said that there are probably numerous undiscovered species on the island.
To open the webinar, Presidential Commissioner Photiou spoke of the importance of tackling environmental issues and said that the diaspora was working closely with the Cypriot Government and environmental experts. He also noted that engaging with the environmental challenges that Cyprus faces is a way that diaspora Cypriots can grow closer to their homeland.
Environmental Commissioner Vasiliou said that wildlife and biodiversity were her “personal passions” and issues that she cares deeply about. She added she felt honoured to be having this discussion with a group of young people from the diaspora and looked forward to more conversations about similar topics in the future.
NEPOMAK President Christos Tuton said that young diaspora Cypriots are engaged with Cyprus’ environmental challenges because “we care about our homeland and want future generations to be able to enjoy it as we do now.” He said that Cyprus’ wildlife and biodiversity were central to the island’s identity and can never be taken for granted, highlighting that even iconic national symbols like the Mouflon, were almost extinct on the island.
* NEPOMAK is the World Federation of Young Overseas Cypriots and has branches in the UK, USA, Australia & New Zealand, Greece, Canada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and continental Europe. The organisation is run day-to-day by volunteers across the world, motivated by their love for Cyprus and the Cypriot diaspora.