Aphanius fasciatus is a protected species under the EU habitats Directive and he Bern Convention Appendices

Help Save the Cyprus Killifish

The Mediterranean Killifish has only three remaining populations on the island of Cyprus, all of them are found in unprotected habitats which are suffering from a variety of anthropogenic threats; we need to gather funds and to act fast to protect this Cypriot fish and it’s last remaining habitats before it is too late – we need your help!

The Aims

Project Aim

The aim of this project is to work autonomously and alongside existing organisations and in line with existing projects to ensure the long term protection of the habitats which host the regionally threatened Mediterranean Killifish Aphanius fasciatus in Cyprus.

Project Objectives

  • Investigate and confirm the extent of Aphanius fasciatus distribution in Cyprus
  • Secure existing crucial habitats which host the Mediterranean Killifish Aphanius fasciatus on the island.
  • Establish physical boundaries for members of the public in key habitat areas such as refuges and breeding ground, in order to prevent habitat degradation or destruction and allow species to flourish without human interference.
  • Initiate ex-situ reproduction and re-introduction programs for all populations with strict protocols for genetic exchange to ensure optimum gene flow and diversity.
  • Support existing measures to control the spread of invasive species and monitor population dynamics in the long term in order to plan effective actions for eradication.
  • Collate evidence and work closely with authorities and existing organisations to achieve targets for scientific criteria required for Natura 2000 status of each of the three habitats hosting Aphanius fasciatus and other protected species in Cyprus

Why is this important?

Aphanius in Cyprus are under considerable pressure from a variety of threats at all of the three known habitats. In recent years we have been able to document some startling evidence which demonstrates the impending danger to these wild populations and the desperate need to initiate our action plan before it is too late.

Since 2008 the Freshwater Life team members have conducted ongoing investigative research and collated data on the behaviour and distribution of Aphanius at the Akrotiri wetlands in Cyprus

Up until 2013, the Cypriot Killifish were regularly found distributed throughout the entire wetland system on the Akrotiri peninsula including the very eastern side of the lake at the Zakaki marsh; this was the last time they were recorded there and they have not returned since. For the last few years the fish have been restricted to just a handful of natural and semi-natural lagoons on the Western coast and now occupy what we estimate is just 10% of their original range.

Since the Akrotiri Wetlands are not protected habitats and have not been designated as special conservation areas, local individuals are able to extract the freshwater sources unregulated for irrigation of crops, but more disastrously many farmers also channel excess water or run-off, containing poisonous pesticides and fertilisers directly into the lake putting the aquatic organisms in danger.

One major reason for the rapid decline in Aphanius numbers at Akrotiri is the introduction by local people of invasive Gambusia holbrooki. These North American livebearering species reproduce live young at a considerably faster rate than Aphanius can produce their eggs; Aphanius eggs and fry are also consumed regularly when the two species live side by side.

The Aphanius population at Famagusta Bay is situated at the mouth of the Pediaios River, the longest river in Cyprus and is fragmented into two distinct areas by construction developments. As a result of these property and road constructions both habitats now suffer from serious episodes of dryness during the summer months.  In 2012 our colleagues reported a mass death of approximately 20,000 Aphanius found encrusted in salt on the almost entirely dry wetland; this has worsened in recent years and this is particularly the case in the more northern area, where on our most recent monitoring exercise they could no longer be found.

Natural brackish wetlands, marshes, lagoons and estuaries associated with river deltas are of immense importance to ensuring the long term flourishing of Aphanius fasciatus. The fragmentation of this important Killifish refuge at Famagusta has already resulted in the loss of habitat and further decline in the local distribution of the species. With no fish present in the northern area there is no protected species present to prevent the ongoing urbanisation of the area and the area may be lost to development projects.

This Famagusta habitat is also an important refuge and breeding pathway for the critically endangered European eel Anguilla anguilla which are a protected catadromous species requiring unrestricted access from the sea into fresh waters in order to complete their reproductive cycle; European eels are one of the most endangered species in Cyprus and the entire the Mediterranean.

The third population of Aphanius fasciatus from Cyprus was only just discovered in late 2015, as part of a Freshwater Life Project search-find survey to investigate the distribution of the Cyprus Killifish at other locations on the island. This habitat is situated on the Kormakitis peninsula in the northern territory and is just outside of an existing protected national park boundary; sadly this renders this important new Aphanius habitat and all of the species living there, outside of any local conservation regulations and at risk of ongoing degradation.

Agricultural land is situated in close proximity to these unprotected lagoons and some of those nearest to fields are highly eutrophic and uninhabitable to aquatic life. There is also a population of Artemia shrimp which could be an important food item for Aphanius here, the  effect of agrochemicals on crustaceans is well documented and loss of this invertebrate would likely cause the extirpation of Aphanius

The northern territory of Cyprus has been experiencing a construction boom since approximately 2003 and on our visit the area the exciting discovery of a new population of Cypriot Aphanius was accompanied by great concern at the establishment of a very large holiday resort within a close distance of this critical Killifish refuge; more building plans may be ahead and we need to secure this habitat fast

How will we do it?

The Costs

Conclusion

Aphanius fasciatus is a protected species under the EU habitats Directive and the Bern Convention Appendices and yet, if it’s habitats are not protected, preserved and allowed to flourish naturally, the species will face an untimely and undeniable extinction in Cyprus.

by

Chris is an aquatic researcher and naturalist primarily interested in freshwater teleosts, crustacea and macrophytes. A specialist in fish nutrition, his background includes the establishment of his own business where he develops specially formulated feeds for ornamental & farmed fish and other aquatic species closely based on their natural diets. His personal research includes the freshwater and coastal habitats on the island of Cyprus and the ecological impacts of unsustainable practices occurring in the Amazon and Orinoco basins; he is also an avid collector and cultivator of rare and endangered rainforest plants.