The British Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) in Cyprus include sea turtle nesting beaches of both green and loggerhead turtles. Protection and monitoring of these beaches is undertaken by the SBA authorities in collaboration with local volunteer groups whose members are trained and licensed to monitor the nesting beaches and protect nests.
In 2008-12, the volunteer group Episkopi TurtleWatch recorded illegal fishing activities (nets set in shallow waters or surpassing permitted soak time) and an increasing number of dead stranded sea turtles in Episkopi Bay, a large part of which bore signs of interaction with fishing gear or intentional killing. The volunteer group undertook aerial surveys since 2009 to verify if and at what depths sea turtles congregate or migrate through Episkopi Bay. Initial results indicated that the area may be used as a feeding ground by green turtles; further results are expected to be published soon.
After being alerted by the group regarding the increased sea turtle mortality in Episkopi Bay, we submitted a complaint in 2010 to the Bern Convention. In response to our complaint, the SBA increased patrols and conducted its own aerial survey from June 2010-Janurary 2011 to evaluate the population in the area. Finally the SBA authorities accepted that the main cause of death is incidental entanglement in fishing nets; however, it did not agree to an adaption of fishing regulations within the bay.
Based on the actions taken in 2011 and the commitments made by the SBA to continue these activities in 2012, the Bern Convention decided not to keep our complaint in standby. We continue to encourage improved protection of sea turtles in the area. Our reports are available in the Publications section.
A total of 131 turtles were found dead in 2008-2012 in Episkopi Bay, a large part of which are green turtles. Given the dwindling number of green turtles, the high mortality rate reported from this area is a cause of great concern, and action should be taken by both the SBA administration and the Republic of Cyprus to monitor and reduce human-induced mortality. Failure to protect two endangered species in Episkopi Bay undermines conservation efforts elsewhere in Cyprus and beyond.