The search for the last freshwater blenny in Cyprus

The Aim

To rehabilitate and restore crucial estuarine, fluvial, and riparian habitats along the Amathos River, complete and island-wide survey to determine the presence or probable extirpation, and complete genetic analysis, so as to establish a captive breeding initiative as part of a comprehensive reintroduction program for the presumed-extinct freshwater blenny, the only native freshwater fish species of Cyprus.

The Objectives

Provide educational opportunities for local communities to learn about the threats facing the habitats and biodiversity of the Amathos River.

Complete an island-wide survey using multiple sampling methods, to determine the presence or probable absence of the species.

Complete genetic sequencing of diagnostic material from Cyprus freshwater blenny to identify its correct taxonomy and therefore its closest living relative.

Restore important riverine habitat along the Amathos River, including naturalizing and reconnecting the river estuary to the sea to re-establish important feeding, breeding, and migration routes for fishes

Conduct a feasibility study and Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) to determine the benefits and identify any negative impacts of the project.

Engage with local stakeholders to understand land-use and resource practices, and identify opportunities to implement sustainable, regenerative, and ecologically responsible practices.

Establish a captive-breeding, monitoring, and reintroduction program for the freshwater blenny in Cyprus

The only known specimens of the Cyprus freshwater blenny are held at the Natural History Museum London

The History

Ichthyocoris [Salaria] cf. fluviatilis is the only known native freshwater fish species from Cyprus. It was first discovered in 1909 by Roland L.N. Michell, the then commissioner of Limassol, who subsequently sent three specimens, known only from 2-3 torrents, and identified as Blennius varus, to George A. Boulenger, at the department of zoology in the Natural History Museum, London. The beginning of the 20th century saw the construction of the islands very first dams, today the island hosts over 108 dams and reservoirs with very few, if any, rivers left to flow naturally. In the late 1940s, the chief health inspector Mehmet Aziz initiated the start of what culminated in a thirty-two-year-long intensive chemical pesticide (DDT) campaign across the entire island, in an attempt to completely eradicate, rather than reduce or minimise, the presence of Malaria. As a result, every standing water body from rivers, lakes, marshes, ponds, pools, puddles, and paw prints were sprayed until no sign of mosquito life remained. The outcome of these two actions alone was likely sufficient enough to simultaneously eradicate any aquatic life, amphibian and freshwater crab numbers also plummeted drastically, and with that, so did the numbers of water snakes (Natrix natrix cypriaca), and probably Natrix tessellata (now considered extinct). Their ability to exist on land may have been their only reason for survival, fish, on the other hand, had very little chance. In combination with the drastic rise in coastal development and urbanisation, as well as the boom in agricultural fertilizer and pesticide use, there are slim chances of a relic population remaining on the island, and many of the lower river stretches they once would have inhabited, nowadays are simply not fed enough water, are rarely connected to the sea, and are in very poor condition.

The only known collections of the Cyprus freshwater blenny occurred in only 2-3 torrents in the district of Limassol

Why is this Project Important?

EU Obligations

– In the 2nd bilateral meeting between Cyprus and the EU in 2013, under action point 3.a.1, Cyprus was asked to explain in its 2nd river basin management plan why there are no indigenous fish species in its rivers since indigenous fish presence is a very important biological quality element for river status classification under the EU Water Framework Directives.

– In the 2nd river basin management plan in 2014, Cyprus accepted that a key problem is the potential disappearance of the Cyprus freshwater blenny, and if it is determined that the species has actually disappeared, it is important to consider the case of stimulation from neighboring Mediterranean populations and to consider the reintroduction of native fish species in Cyprus because there is objective evidence that these species have fallen or been extirpated due to anthropogenic pressures.

– In 2016, a scientific publication by Zogaris et al entitled “Cyprus: Ecological restoration and fish species re-introduction is required!” concluded that the re-introduction of native fish species in Cyprus, particularly the freshwater blenny, was recommended, especially so for ensuring compliance with objectives of both the Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive. It also suggested that community ecology approaches may bring a more holistic approach to restoration planning fostering an overall deeper appreciation of local natural history.

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

What work has already been done?

Every year since 2012, our team has surveyed rivers, and lakes (dams) up to 2-3 times per year, within and just outside of the Limassol district, using dip-net, trapping, and visual observation methods.

Sampling sites along three rivers in the Limassol district in 2018

Between 2009-2011, our colleague Dr. Stamatis Zogaris (HCMR), collaborated with Cypriot, British, and Portuguese researchers to survey and collate species data for 53 sites across 18 river basins on the island. 35 of those were electrofished and results determined that whilst 75% of survey sites had fish species present, 45% of survey sites contained non-native fish species; no freshwater blennies were recorded.

How will we achieve our goal?

Scientific Research


We will complete an island-wide survey using various sampling methods including visual, netting, eDNA, and other methods

Genetic Research

We are working with researchers from the biomolecular laboratory at the Natural History Museum London to try to extract viable DNA from the original 1909 specimens of the Cyprus freshwater blenny. We will then complete DNA sequencing to determine whether it was a unique species or not, and where exactly it sits on its family tree, so as to identify its closest living relative, a candidate for potential reintroduction.

Feasibility Study

Pending confirmation of the extirpation of the Cyprus freshwater blenny, prior to any attempt to reintroduce its closest living relative back into its historic range, we will conduct a comprehensive feasibility study outlining all of the potential benefits, drawbacks, and impacts of such a project at the ecological and societal levels.

Engagement, Education & Support

Surveying & Consultation

We will continue to connect directly with local people, community groups, businesses, farmers, and others, to explore how riparian land is used and treated, how river resources are utilised, and what problems are faced that present impacts on river systems that could host reintroduced populations of freshwater blenny.

Stakeholder Support

The outcome of our surveying and consultation phase will inform proposals for sustainable, regenerative, and more ecologically responsible solutions that could be implemented in, for, and by the local communities. We will explore possibilities for accessing funding to help implement changes that benefit local biodiversity, assist in compliance with national and EU legislation, and in ways that are welcomed by local communities.

Educational Materials

We will install educational interpretation boards along riverine habitats that are accessible to nature enthusiasts and tourists, to highlight the threats faced by river systems and freshwater biodiversity of rivers within the historic range of the Cyprus freshwater blenny.

Community Engagement

We will continue to engage with local authorities, NGOs, community groups, and volunteers, to conduct habitat clean-up activities and deliver citizen science workshops on water quality monitoring, as well as reach out to local businesses and farmers to explore how we can maximize enthusiasm for freshwater conservation and implement holistic strategies for the long-term improvement and enrichment of rivers intended to host reintroduced populations of freshwater blennies.

Habitat Restoration

We will develop plans in conjunction with the competent authorities, to restore crucial estuarine habitat on rivers within the known historic range of the Cyprus freshwater blenny, reestablishing their connection to the sea, and ensuring perennial systems continue to flow all year with sufficient flow to support thriving communities of native freshwater biodiversity.


Captive Breeding

We will establish a locally run ex-situ captive breeding program for the purposes of maintaining backup populations, and top-up stock for reintroduced populations of the freshwater blenny.


Post reintroduction, ongoing monitoring will be necessary for ensuring fish health, population density/abundance, behaviour, and in-situ reproduction success. It will also enable us to document comparative changes to habitat after restoration efforts and confirm the impact of the reintroduction on the river systems.

Additional project monitoring will be crucial to understanding the impact of local education efforts and local business support initiatives, as well as supporting and measuring the success of enforcement action by local authorities for environmental infringements

A female freshwater blenny from a non-Cypriot population

Why should we act now?

The potential re-introduction of the freshwater blenny to the inland waters of Cyprus would be an immense success for the government environmental departments in Cyprus, and would demonstrate a renewed passion by authorities for the native fauna of the island in light of the ongoing struggle to achieve ambitious EU environmental targets. It would enable Cyprus to demonstrate environmental efforts in compliance with EU legislation and set an example as a nation that prioritises environmental policy. The project has potential to provide opportunities for local people and businesses and mitigate the effects of climate change. The freshwater blenny (Ichthyocoris [Salaria] fluviatilis) 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.