A farmer caught illegally uprooting a road to channel run-off into Akrotiri Lake in 2016

The three habitats of the Cyprus Killifish | Anthropogenic threats

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.

Akrotiri Peninsula

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.

This former habitat for Aphanius fasciatus at Zakaki marsh no longer exists after it was filled it to erect a street lamp in recent years
This former habitat for Aphanius fasciatus at Zakaki marsh no longer exists after it was filled it to erect a street lamp in recent years

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.

Channel allowing fertiliser and pesticide run-off into Akrotiri Lake
A run-off channel allowing fertiliser and pesticide run-off into Akrotiri Lake; water extraction pipes channel freshwater away

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.

Invasive Gambusia Akrotiri Cyprus
Non-native Gambusia from the Akrotiri Salt Lake system, Cyprus

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.

Aphanius Killifish Akrotiri Cyprus
Aphanius fasciatus from Episkopi Bay, Cyprus

Famagusta Bay

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.

Mass death of over 20,000 Aphanius due to poorly planned construction at Famagusta Bay
Mass kill of ~20,000 Aphanius at Famagusta

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 Killifish habitat at Famagusta Bay was almost entirely dry in 2012 due to poorly planned construction works
This Killifish habitat at Famagusta Bay was almost entirely dry in 2012 due to manmade developments restricting natural water flow

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.

Morphou Bay

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

Construction and developments at Morphou Bay are constantly encroaching and this huge holiday village was opened in recent years within approximately 500m of unprotected Aphanius lagoons
New holiday village within ~500m of Aphanius

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

eutrophic lagoon aphanius habitat
This eutrophic lagoon contained only dead and dying Killifish, likely a result of agricultural pollution.


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.