Why are wetlands important and how are they changing?
Wetlands are important ecosystems that provide many benefits for people and the environment. They can be seasonally or permanently flooded, providing water storage which can reduce the effects of flooding (Gardner et al., 2015). Coastal wetlands can stabilise the shoreline and protect from storm surges and other maritime impacts (Narayan et al., 2015). Wetlands can also improve water quality, as vegetation can absorb pollutants and trap sediment from soil erosion and surface runoff (Zedler & Kercher, 2005). Although the geographic area of wetlands is small they are globally important diversity hot spots (Darwall et al., 2014). They provide unique habitats for animals and specialised plants, many of which are only found in these environments (Öztürk, 2010). As wetlands have such high plant productivity and most decomposing plant matter is trapped under sediment or mud they do not release carbon to the atmosphere, making these ecosystems very important carbon sinks vital in climate change responses (Were et al., 2019).
The Akrotiri salt lake and its surrounding marshes and pools are recognised as one of the eastern Mediterranean region’s most important wetlands, qualifying as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention (JNCC, 2005). This wetland area hosts 27 different habitat types defined by the European Habitats Directive (CCF, 2003); supporting hundreds of plant and bird species. Some of the plants growing around Lake Akrotiri are only found in Cyprus and many species are endangered across Europe (JNCC, 2005). Over 300 bird species have been recorded in the area, with over 30 species listed as strictly protected by the Bern Convention, due to their endangered and vulnerable status (Tziortzis et al., 2012). Important numbers of migratory birds including the Greater Flamingo, Shelduck and Demoiselle Crane winter here on their route between Europe and Africa (SBAA, 2012). While other rare birds like the endangered Ferruginous duck nest and breed in the unique environment (Tziortzis et al., 2012).
Unfortunately these important ecosystems are under increasing and changing pressures. In many regions like Cyprus, climate change is projected to lead to increasing temperatures and decreasing summer rainfall (Zachariadis, 2016). As some countries become drier, wetlands like Akrotiri could spend longer dry or with low water levels and the plant and animal species that depend on the water can suffer (Brown, 2008). Climate change is not the only threat to water levels. As in Akrotiri, urbanisation and the building of canals, dams and reservoirs designed for water diversion for irrigation, domestic and industrial use can also lead to loss of wetlands due to water restriction (Tziortzis et al., 2012). Surrounding agricultural land and urban developments that use this water can also lead to pollution of it. For example, pesticides can harm many species while fertilizer runoff and sewage discharge can lead to an excess of nutrients and result in excessive growth of algae or eutrophication, which can also have negative impacts on other species (Tziortzis et al., 2012). Reduced wetland plant productivity due to water limitation or eutrophication will also decrease the ecosystems ability to act as an important carbon sink (Hopkins et al., 2012).
Due to their beautiful and diverse nature, further wetland pollution from increasing development, tourism and littering is also common. Urbanisation and tourism can also lead to increased disturbance, carbon release and damage of habitats and vulnerable species, as with the encroachment of parking to the west of the popular tourist spot of Lady’s Mile beach on the Akrotiri peninsula (JNCC, 2005). Further human activities threatening these species include illegal hunting of endangered birds and the introduction of non-native plant species (SBAA, 2012). In the Akrotiri wetland a non-native Eucalyptus forest was planted in the first half of the 20th century to drain the wetland and reduce the available habitat for mosquitoes (SBAA, 2012, Pescott et al. 2018). Reducing the wetland habitat increases pressure for all the animal and plant species supported, while mosquitoes are an important food source for these animals and male mosquitoes can pollinate the numerous and often rare flower species. Non-native plant species, like the Golden Wattle in Akrotiri, can also outcompete for space and water and can displace local rare or endemic plants (SBAA, 2012).
Many of these pressures can be reduced with conservation, sustainable use and increased awareness of the importance and fragile balance of these ecosystems (Zedler and Kercher, 2005). Some of these conservation measures include education, limited access, restricted water diversion, pollution control and strict management practices for local agriculture, industry, tourism and development (Gardner et al., 2015). For example, on the Akrotiri peninsula the Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre increases awareness of the significance of the ecosystem while rubbish removal is implemented and a common sewerage system is under consideration (SBAA, 2012). Individuals can also help preserve the world’s wetlands by spreading awareness, disposing of all their rubbish and sticking to designated tracks to prevent disturbance to sensitive habitats.
For more information about the Akrotiri wetland, please visit the Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre. If you would like to know more about the work UKCEH are undertaking on the Akrotiri salt lake, please visit our Researching Invasive Species in Kýpros (RIS-Ký) website where you can see a range of resources we have created, including invasive species guides, guides to mosquito management and pollinator guides. If you want to know more about our Pollinator Monitoring Scheme – Kýpros, please visit our PoMS-Ký page.
Methods of monitoring wetlands
Good Ecological Status for Mediterranean temporary saline lakes short report
Using drones: Guidance for the remote sensing of habitats
Analytical chemistry for waterbodies
Water sampling video - please see our video on taking water samples for wetland lake monitoring
Brown N. (2008). Climate Change in the UK Overseas Territories: An Overview of the Science, Policy and You. Peterborough, UK: Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Cyprus Conservation Foundation (CCF) (2003) Military Antenna on the British base of Akrotiri, Cyprus. Strasbourg: Dictorate of Culture and Nutural and Cultural Heritage.
Darwall W., Carrizo S., Numa C., Barrios V., Freyhof J. and Smith K. (2014). Freshwater Key Biodiversity Areas in the Mediterranean Basin Hotspot: Informing species conservation and development planning in freshwater ecosystems. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.CH.2014.SSC-OP.52.en
Gardner R. C., Barchiesi S., Beltrame C., Finlayson C., Galewski T., Harrison I., Paganini M., Perennou C., Pritchard D., Rosenqvist A. and Walpole, M. (2015). State of the World's Wetlands and Their Services to People: A Compilation of Recent Analyses. Ramsar Briefing Note 7. Gland, Switzerland: Ramsar.
Hopkinson C.S., Xinping, H., Cai W-J. (2012) Carbon sequestration in wetland dominated coastal systems — a global sink of rapidly diminishing magnitude. Current options in Environmental Sustainability Vol. 4 Issue 2 186-194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2012.03.005
JNCC (2005) Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS). Peterborough, UK: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
Narayan S., Beck M.W., Wilson P. et al. (2017). The Value of Coastal Wetlands for Flood Damage Reduction in the Northeastern USA. Sci Rep 7, 9463. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-09269-z
Öztürk M., Gucel S., Guvensen A., Kadis C. and Kounnamas C. (2010). Halophyte plant diversity, coastal habitat types and their conservation status in Cyprus. In: Öztürk M., Böer B., Barth HJ., Clüsener-Godt M., Khan M., Breckle SW. (eds) Sabkha Ecosystems. Tasks for Vegetation Science, vol 46. Dordrecht: Springer.
Pescott, O.L., Harris, S.E., Peyton, J.M., Onete, M., Martinou, A.F., & Mountford, J.O. (2018). The forest on the peninsula: Impacts, uses and perceptions of a colonial legacy in Cyprus. In: Histories of Bioinvasions in Mediterranean-type regions A.I. Quieroz and S. Pooley (eds), pp. 195-217. Springer, Cham
SBAA (2012) Akrotiri Peninsula Environmental Management Plan V2.0. Sovereign Base Areas Administration [accessed online 10/03/2020] https://sbaadministration.org/home/docs/eco/20121002_AKI_PEN_MGT_PLAN.pdf
Tziortzis I., Tzoraki O., Petrou A., Panayiotou C., Himenez C., Delipetrou P., Charalampidou I. and Eliadis E. (2012). Hydrological Study & Further Studies to be incorporated in the Akrotiri Peninsula Management Plan. Nicosia: A.P. Marine
Were, D., Kansiime, F., Fetahi, T. et al. (2019) Carbon Sequestration by Wetlands: A Critical Review of Enhancement Measures for Climate Change Mitigation. Earth Syst Environ 3, 327–340. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41748-019-00094-0
Zachariadis T. (2016) Climate Change in Cyprus, Review of the Impacts and Outline of an Adaption Strategy. Dodrecht: Springer. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-29688-3
Zedler J. B., & Kercher S. (2005). WETLAND RESOURCES: Status, Trends, Ecosystem Services, and Restorability. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 30(1), 39-74. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.energy.30.050504.144248