The Cyprus Killifish is now known from three localities on Cyprus island. The research of our team members and their associated institutions has highlighted various different impacts on the respective habitats of these three populations since 2008 and ten years later can quantify and illustrate ongoing issues and important areas of concern where alternative approaches are required for ongoing sustainability of not only the individual fishspecies, but for the collective biodiversity and the three host habitats.
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 salt 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; some habitats have even been destroyed for small-scale constructions.
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.
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.
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 anguillawhich 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
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
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