Akamas: The Garden of Paphos, Cyprus
The Akamas peninsula region is a coastal area in the Paphos district of Cyprus which includes substantial near virgin habitats and vegetation communities. Its flora is rich and varied. In spring it provides a spectacle of breathtaking beauty with colours and shapes long lost in most of the rest of the island; a reminder of the island's original identity. Its coastline is still largely pristine and its littoral and marine life little impacted by the advance of civilisation. Green turtles still nest on its beaches and the occasional Monk Seal is still sighted there. The last wild boars took refuge in Akamas and were hunted to extinction during this century. The diversity of wildlife in this area ranks it as an area of outstanding ecological importance, not only for Cyprus but for the whole of the Mediterranean. The integrity of the area has nonetheless been and is compromised by a variety of activities and causes (forest fires, excessive hunting, overgrazing, military exercises etc.)
Photo By: Ursula Keuper-Bennett/Peter Bennett
The Akamas range of hills reaches about 670 metres in height. The geology of the area and its morphology are varied, forming a complex mosaic which results in a multitude of habitats. Large parts of it are upper or lower pillow lavas and metabasalts. Diabase intrusions are found in these areas while areas of serpentinite fringe much of this ophiolithic complex. There are large parts of Akamas with sedimentary rocks, such as reef limestone, especially in parts of the north and southern slopes of the range. The limestone parts of Akamas, in several areas, are clearly reminiscent of the Kyrenia mountains with pine trees, junipers and with a profuse display of cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) in spring practically reaching the sea. The autumn-flowering Cyprus endemic cyclamen (Cyclamen cyprium) is also found in Akamas but this grows further inland in more shady and humid places. With the exception of the very impressive cliffs and gorges of the area perhaps most spectacular of the rock formations are those of the Mamonia formations typified by the Aetopetres terrain around the highest peak of Akamas. Here lichen-covered gigantic rocks dominate stark and spectacular landscapes.
The vegetation of most of Akamas is characteristic of the Mediterranean shrub forests known as Maquis. The Maquis are in general drought (and goat) resistant forests with their vegetation consisting mainly of evergreen shrubs and small trees such as junipers, lentiscus and wild olive, with a variety of rock-roses and other bushes with, in places, a thin cover of pine trees. The Akamas peninsula is characterised by a large diversity of vegetation communities which are directly related to the area's very complex and varied geology and morphology. Man's influence on the vegetation of the area is minimal in the forest areas at least, though no doubt the original vegetation even in the forest areas was more lush.
The fauna was also undoubtedly richer. Lack of water and the inaccessibility of the area spared it of the fate of most of the coastline of the island where agriculture and urban development have left little of the natural vegetation. Nonetheless forest fires, old and relatively recent, have taken their toll. Goats have also traditionally grazed there, probably since their introduction to the island by neolithic man. Goats left their impact on the vegetation of the area and, through the centuries, grazing (and forest fires) determined the degree of degradation of the original Mediterranean evergreen forest into the kind of shrub forests we, in the 20th century, recognize as maquis or garrigue. The impact of grazing is now the subject of some debate, as controlled grazing may also have some positive results. Judging by their remains in nearby archaeological sites, deer and mouflon also grazed in some abundance in Akamas. They too were introduced in Cyprus by man, when he first colonized the island. The degree of degradation of the vegetation of various habitats in the area has resulted in various vegetation communities ranging from relatively dense pine forests to the overgrazed spiny burnet and Genista garrigues.
The rich vegetation of Akamas includes many endemic species of plants. Many other species found here are rare in most of the rest of the island. Over 30 species of endemic plants grow on the peninsula. Of these Alyssum akamasicum and Centurea akamantis bear the name of Akamas and are found nowhere else on the island except, locally, in Akamas. Alyssum akamasicum grows only in the serpentinite areas. The endemic Cyprus tulip, Tulipa cypria, is found only in Akamas and near Turkish-occupied Myrtou. Locally, on the northern slopes of the Peninsula, we find the delicately scented Orchis punctulata, one of Europe's great orchid rarities. Out of the 50 or so orchids of Cyprus (i.e. species, sub-species and varieties) about half can be found in Akamas. The Lax-flowered Orchid, Orchis laxiflora, one of Cyprus' rarest orchids is found also on the northern slopes of Akamas.
The fragnant Bug Orchid, Orchis coriophora subspecies fragnans and the closely related Holy Orchid, Orchis sancta, grow in abundance as does the Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis. The area also abounds with a variety of bee-orchids including the newly described endemic Ophrys lapethica. Until recently the small Gladiolus triphyllus, which in Cyprus is found mainly in Akamas was considered an endemic species. It is a species closely related to the common wild gladiolus which grows mainly in cultivated fields. (Iladiolus triphyllus was recently recorded growing in small numbers on the mainland. Ancient junipers, some centuries old, grow in much of the area, growing into sizable trees in areas with deep soils, as for example at Fontana Amorosa. In areas with higher humidity Strawberry trees (Arbuto andracne and the much rarer A. unedo), oleanders and myrtle, often interwined with various climbers can be found. In the most humid of the valleys and gorges impenetrable thickets are formed where even goats do not venture.
The gorges of Akamas, essential for the survival of a spectrum of wildlife, are of exceptional ecological importance. These cut deep into the chalk and the reef limestone areas, often forming high vertical cliffs and caves. Rare and sensitive vegetation communities have evolved here. On their inaccessible cliffs rare plants find protection from grazing while many species of birds and other animals take refuge and breed on them.
The fauna of Akamas like much of the fauna of the island has been studied to a small degree and begs for more detailed study. It is known, however, enough for its value to be appreciated and for the threats to it to cause concern. As is to be expected from an area that is practically virgin and extensive it contains practically the whole spectrum of the Cypriot mammalian (and other) fauna with the exception of the mouflon. Species such as the endemic Cyprus White-toothed Shrew (Crocidura cypria), hedgehogs, hares and foxes can be found here. Several species of bats including the fruit bat, which has Cyprus as its northern limit of distribution, shelter in caves in the area.
The reptilian fauna of Akamas is rich and most species identified in Cyprus have been recorded in Akamas with the possible exception of the newly identified endemic snake, Coluber cypriensis, the distribution of which is still being researched into. Of the land reptiles there are sizable populations of the endemic variety of the lizard Lacerta leavis troodii as well as of the Spiny-footed Lizard (Acanthodactylus schreiberi). The Spiny-footed Lizard's distribution is mainly along the coast of Cyprus and its populations are endangered in much of the southern coast. The Green Toad (Bufo viridis) is the only one of Cyprus' three frogs that is present in Akamas in any numbers and even this species is relatively rare in the area.
The diversity in the habitats and in the flora of the area and the fact that insecticides are little used there, have resulted in an exceptional diversity in the insect fauna of Akamas. Numerous butterflies, some very rare, can be found in the area. Butterflies such as the Cyprus (or Paphos) Blue (Glaucopsyche Paphos), the Cyprus Meadow Brown (Maniola cypricola) the Cyprus Grayling (Hiporchia pellucida cypriensis) are on the wing from early spring. Mention must also be made of the very rare and spectacular Two-tailed Pasha, Charaxes jasius, which is dependant probably on the handful of Arbuto unedo trees found in this area. Similarly the Cyprus endemic variety of the Eastern festoon, Zerynthia cerisyi cypria, a fairly rare butterfly is dependant on the exotic looking Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia sempervirens) which is found in the gorges of Akamas.
There are several small springs and seepages in the area. Some, like the Baths of Aphrodite and Ayios Kononas and the elusive Fontana Amorosa, are well known. These springs and seepages, are precious for the survival of the fauna of the area especially in the long hot summer of Cyprus. Most springs have their own freshwater fauna and flora: small snails (Melanopsis praemorsa and Theodoxus anatolicus), a freshwater crab (Potamion Potamios), several crustaceans and several aquatic species of plants (e.g. Chara algae community). Other species of plants depend on the existence of damp soil e.g. Juncus spp, Schoenus nigricans, Samolus valerandi, Prunella vulgaris, Potentilla reptans and some orchids. The freshwater crab which still survives here has disappeared from many parts of Cyprus as a result of the extensive use of DDT and other insecticides during the campaign against malaria. The use of less harmful insecticides in recent years has seen some recovery of certain populations of
this crab. As with some frog populations, crab populations have not all shown recovery and must be presumed extinct in some areas.
Sand dunes (along with wetlands) are probably Cyprus' most endangered habitats. Most sand dune areas have disappeared, or are very rapidly disappearing, as natural habitats, from the south coast of the island (Ayia Napa, Moni, Paphos). In Akamas some are still surviving and they are restricted to the Lara area mainly. Their vegetation is unique. Rare and endangered plants and plant communities as well as animals depend on them. Species such as the spectacular Sand Daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) and the sand dwelling Spiny-footed Lizard (Acanthodactylus schreiberi) thrive there.
On some of the beaches adjoining these sand dune areas lives the ghost crab (Ocypode cursor), an endangered species which has disappeared from many of our tourist beaches. This is now a protected species under the Fisheries Legislation, along with terrapins, sea turtles, dolphins and seals.
On the west coasts of Akamas, on the relatively remote beaches of Lara and Toxeftra, sea turtles lay their eggs. Both the Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas and the Loggerhead Turtle, Caretta caretta, nest here. The Green Turtle, is the rarer in the Mediterranean and, with a population of probably less than 1000 nesting adults, is now in imminent danger of extinction in this sea. In the Mediterranean it now breeds mainly in Cyprus and in some beaches in Turkey. The sea turtles arrive here from various parts of the Mediterranean to lay their eggs. They nest in summer, from the beginning of June to the end of August. They nest every 14 days, laying 3-5 clutches of eggs in the season. Each time they lay about 100 eggs. They hatch some seven weeks later.
In the past Green turtles used to breed on other beaches in Cyprus also, on beaches such as those of Ayia Napa, Protaras and Potima. Some are now well-known tourist beaches, others have been ruined by sand extraction. Loggerhead turtles also nest in the Polis beaches and, in small numbers, on most other beaches which provide some privacy at night.
The Department of Fisheries started a programme in 1976 aiming at the conservation of the turtles that breed in Cyprus. In addition to other measures, a station-hatchery was set up at Lara in 1978. The project aims among other things at increasing recruitment of young turtles into the population. This is achieved through the protection of the turtle nests from various dangers such as predation by foxes and inundation by the sea. About 80% of the eggs laid on the beaches of Cyprus are either eaten by foxes (as eggs or hatchlings) or perish by getting covered by the sea. Each year some 6,000-7,000 young turtles are hatched either in hatchery or under protection in situ, and then set free. The Lara - Toxeftra area has, since 1989, the status of a protected area under the Fisheries Legislation, with management regulations in place during the nesting and hatching season.
In order to effectively tackle existing and potential threats to the sustainability of the area the issue of the Akamas is currently under study by a team of consultants, with the financial support of the European Union and the World Bank. The study aims at achieving the sustainable management of the area, that is, safeguarding its biodiversity and ecological integrity whilst securing a sustainable future for the area's population.
Text is provided by Andreas Demetropoulos
Pictures of the Akamas landscape, flora and fauna are featured in our photo galleries, listed in the "Places of Interest" menu above.