The search for the last Salaria in Cyprus

The Aim

We will work with authorities and in line with EU regulations and water framework directives to establish at least one natural flowing river in the Lemesos district of Cyprus, which as part of a comprehensive restoration program in cooperation with local people and businesses, can be the site of a re-introduction project for the only indigenous exclusively freshwater dwelling fish species of Cyprus, Salaria fluviatilis – a species presumed extinct after 109 years absent.

The Objectives

  • Complete genetic analyses of diagnostic material from Cypriot Salaria to identify its correct taxonomy and therefore its closest living relative.
  • Complete an island-wide survey which includes the Northern territory to determine for certain the absence or presence of the species.
  • Locate appropriate habitat suitable (or potentially suitable subject to restoration) for Salaria and identify aquatic biodiversity with priority for re-discovering Salaria in Cypriot waters using traditional as well as modern techniques such as eDNA sampling.
  • Assess the ongoing impact factors including those such as local construction, pollution and waste disposal (including effluent drainage) and dams against the likelihood of successful re-introduction of Salaria.
  • Educate local residents and businesses to the project and teach them how to implement appropriate changes that support their local environment; actively seek their support to ensure its success and highlight the benefits it will bring them.

Why is this Important?

Salaria sp. “Cyprus” is the only known indigenous fish species to have exclusively inhabited the islands freshwater ecosystems, re-discovery or re-introduction of the species to its native waters would help Cyprus to once again have native fish swimming in its rivers. We expect that it would also provide a renewed interest and incentive to support nature conservation in Cyprus, which has a well known history of mistakes with freshwater conservation (DDT campaigning, non-native species introductions and poor enforcement of environmental legislation).

Salaria fluviatilis from a successful re-introduction program on the Ebro River in Spain.

The Costs

We estimate costs to be generated in the following areas in order to complete this project in four stages.

  1. Search, Sampling & Observation
  2. Impact Assessment & Education –
  3. Habitat Restoration
  4. Re-Introduction


Ongoing Monitoring – Ongoing efforts to monitor the success of the project post-completion would be required in four further parts

  1. Monitoring of fish health, abundance, behaviour and reproduction
  2. Monitoring changes to the habitat after restoration efforts
  3. Monitoring success of local education initiatives
  4. Monitoring implementation of appropriate action by local authorities for environmental infringements
October 2018 field trip to Cyprus to search for Salaria; volunteers recorded water parameters and took eDNA samples

The Incentives

  • European Commission Obligations

Implementation of this project would enable Cyprus to fulfil its obligations to the European Commission as agreed in the bilateral meeting on 16th September 2013 and as part of the Water Framework Directive. By supporting the carefully considered completion of this project, Cyprus would no longer have no indigenous freshwater fish species in its rivers, an issue it accepts under action point 3.a.1 of the bilateral meeting minutes reflects negatively on the classification status of its rivers.

  • Local People & Businesses

Cyprus under-performed in the 2011 EU impact assessment for presence of the toxic herbicide Trifluralin in its water ways. Cyprus was the worst performer for lake pollution and 3rd worst performer for river pollution. Agriculture is an important source of income for many Cypriot people and presents the largest pull on water resources. Responsible and sustainable practices with alternative farming practices should be included in a comprehensive education program for local residents and encouraged as part of good agri-practice protocols for implementation by local agricultural businesses. The financial benefits of organic farming over farming with the use of chemical pesticides can also be campaigned for with direct economic incentive for farmers and quantifiable positive effects on their local ecosystems, the results of which can be used in advertising to demonstrate the passion of the local businesses for the environment at the local and wider levels.

  • Rewilding

Re-introducing the only native exclusively freshwater fish of Cyprus to the islands waterways would restore natural functionality to those ecosystems and remediate the errors of the 1949-1950 DDT campaign (initiated by the government in order to eradicate malaria) which most likely resulted in the extirpation of Salaria.

The Conclusion

The potential re-introduction of Salaria fluviatilis to the inland waters of Cyprus would be an immense success for the nation and would demonstrate a renewed passion by authorities for the native fauna of the island and redeem the errors of the past. It would enable Cyprus to demonstrate environmental efforts in line with EU standards and set an example as a progressive, forward-thinking nation which prioritises environmental policy. The overall project has potential to provide opportunities for local people and businesses and mitigate effects of climate change. The species is protected under Annex III of the Bern Convention and should be offered some obligatory habitat protections in the instance of its re-discovery or re-introduction


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.