ENVIRONMENTAL scientists from North and South set sail for dual 10-day, round-island seabird and marine life surveys under a three-year bicommunal programme funded by the Swiss-based philanthropic Mava Foundation for Nature.
Sightings included a trio of leaping common bottlenose dolphins and new observations of the numbers and habits of flocks of yelkouan and Scopoli’s shearwaters and Mediterranean shag.
All are threatened species listed on the EU birds directive and Bern Convention requiring member states to monitor and protect populations.
The Mava 2016-22 Mediterranean Basin Programme aims to boost pan-Mediterranean civil society cooperation and collaboration on sustainable development to counter threats to marine life including overfishing and harmful fishing practices, economic crises and deregulation, oil shipping and tourism.
A biodiversity hotspot with a coastline spanning 46,000km, the world’s largest enclosed sea is home to many threatened ecosystems and 1,900 globally threatened species.
The joint survey, implemented last month through project partners the University of Exeter, Birdlife International, the Society for Protection of Turtles (Spot), Birdlife Cyprus and the Enalia Physis environmental research centre, completed opposing voyages of around 650 nautical miles.
The Society for the Protection of Birds and Nature, Kuşkor, provided experienced ornithologist volunteers whose costs were covered.
Head researcher Robin Snape and his team launched from Gazimağusa on a yacht owned by Ünal Dede to dock at Kumyalı, the Dipkarpaz seabird anchorage, Karpaz Gate Marina, Küçük Erenköy, Girne’s Les Ambassadeurs Marina and Yeşilırmak.
Mr Snape said: “It’s a unique opportunity to get a snapshot of seabird abundance and distribution across the island at this important time. Kuşkor studies have shown that thousands of shearwaters pass the north coast in autumn. We aim to understand their distribution in relation to fisheries, where shearwaters can be caught on longlines, and shags in set nets.”
A Birdlife Cyprus/Enalia Physis team cast off from Latchi harbour for Paphos, Pissouri/Ladies’ Mile, Zygi, Limassol Marina, Konnos and Larnaca.
Teams of two observers covered alternating two-hour shifts to monitor seabirds for eight hours a day, collecting data to be shared with the European Sea Birds At Sea (Esas) database using compatible field methodology.
More boat-based sea surveys are forecast for the Bycatch and Artisan Fisheries research project which began in January this year and is headed by North Cyprus-based University of Exeter research associate Mr Snape.
The project also includes education for fishermen, onboard observation, selfreporting, passive acoustic monitoring of cetaceans, satellite turtle tracking and new technology experiments to reduce bycatch.
Kuşkor expressed thanks to volunteers Damla Beton, Sarah Crowley, Amie Wheeldon, Nick and Lyn Pegler, Olkan Ergüler, Inanç Tekgüç, Doug Radford, Fred Wake and Elizabeth Grace Tunka.
Left, the yacht survey route
Robin Snape and Damla Beton on the look out
Yelkouan shearwater Photo: T Hadjikyriacou
Scopoli’s shearwater Photo: Olkan Ergüler