15 May 2013 – Situation update Episkopi Turtlewatch
Below is the text of a letter sent to all our registered volunteers on 13th May 2013. It is self explanatory. The letter is reproduced here to try to ensure that it also reaches our many friends and volunteers who are not formally registered with us, but who have helped us a great deal over the years. A posting has also been made on the facebook page titled Episkopi Turtlewatch. We have already received many responses to the letter and we shall be posting them where it is possible to do so without identifying the sender – we have no wish to expose them to the harassment that we have received. Nesting has already begun in Greece and Israel. Expect Cyprus to follow shortly provided the current spell of rough and colder weather abates.
Dear Turtlewatch Volunteer
Normally at this time of year we would be writing to congratulate you for doing yet another excellent job on cleaning up the Episkopi beaches ready for the start of turtle nesting. Unfortunately this year we are unable to do so because a few weeks ago the Sovereign Base Areas Administration (“SBA”) decided to withdraw our licences. This was an arbitrary decision by the SBA and no one in Episkopi Turtlewatch was consulted about it, or given any prior notice. The first any of us knew about the matter was on 15 March, when we received a copy of an email addressed to “the Licence holders” which cancelled all existing licenses for turtle conservation. Normally licenses expire on 30 June each year and are renewable.
This decision was taken without any discussion with any person within Episkopi Turtlewatch and no notice was given of the termination. Indeed, the SBA, whilst able to communicate this decision to several external parties, failed to notify two out of three of our licence holders that any such decision had been taken – thereby leaving them open to the possibility of criminal prosecution had they inadvertently responded to an incident such as the reporting of a dead or injured turtle. In the email it was stated that, based on (non-existent) discussions with our license holders, an “improved” structure is to be put in place which combines Akrotiri and Episkopi operations under the direction of an Akrotiri based “Officer in Charge (OIC)” who will in turn report to the SBA Environment Department. This appears to be the same structure that was in place for a two year period in the past and was terminated by the SBA because it was ineffective and not suited to addressing the conservation needs of Episkopi. It also lacked continuity because the OIC was always rotated out after a short period.
We believe that the decision has been taken not in the interests of turtle conservation but in the interests of stifling criticism of the SBA. The threat of license withdrawal was raised as long ago as 2006 when Episkopi Turtlewatch alerted the SBA to the sudden rise in turtle mortality in the area and pressed for action to be taken to enforce the legislation regarding wildlife protection and also to improve upon and enforce existing fishing legislation. This threat has been repeated regularly in an obvious attempt to silence us. The previous SBA Administrative Secretary, James Gondelle, bluntly told David and Linda on several occasions that we should not have lodged a complaint under the Berne Convention, and clearly implied that the SBA would ensure that we regretted doing so.
For several seasons license holders have been subjected to a series of petty harassments in a bid to find evidence that license terms have been breached in order to give the SBA an excuse not to renew them. Despite going to ridiculous lengths the SBA was unable to do this as all license holders have always adhered to the license terms despite strongly disagreeing with some of them. The SBA also could not cancel the licences for reason of lack of knowledge or expertise as they had previously acknowledged that we were some of the most expert people in Cyprus and certainly the most expert within the SBA. Prior to 2006 there was effectively no SBA Environment Department and no active involvement on the part of the SBA in turtle conservation. Episkopi Turtlewatch welcomed the involvement of the department and went out of its way to help employees become more familiar with turtle conservation issues. For some years we have realised that we were mistaken in doing this and the SBA’s involvement is no more than a box ticking exercise introduced to comply with EU requirements and to put a positive PR spin on the SBA itself. The Wildlife Ordinance has been used as a stick to beat conservationists such as ourselves with whilst local fishermen who are clearly responsible for a large number of deliberate, as well as accidental, turtle deaths, are not just ignored but actively pandered to. We can identify many incidents where the involvement of the SBA environment department has had a negative impact on turtle conservation in Episkopi. We cannot find a single positive.
We were given an email address for the new OIC. Tony, Frank, Ruth, David and Linda have no interest in further involvement on the new basis. We know the individuals involved in creating it are dishonest, incompetent and lacking in even the most basic of courtesies. We do, however, recognise that our volunteers are the best in the business and should be given the opportunity to become part of the new set up if they wish. Ruth, the only licence holder who actually received notification of termination of her licence, emailed the new OIC shortly afterwards to try to find out how existing volunteers could get involved if they wished. Clearly he adheres to SBA standards as 50 days later she is still waiting for an answer. If you do wish to find out how you can be involved we suggest that you contact the author of the termination letter. Her contact details are below:
Policy and Plans Officer (PPO), SBAA
Mob: 94 120 3319
Tel: 25 96 3319
We are, however, very concerned that turtle conservation in Episkopi will effectively cease and that nest numbers will magically dwindle and turtle deaths suddenly “reduce”. In order to monitor the situation we are proposing to continue a walking rota as usual with tracks and strandings to be reported back to us. We will look at tracks, assess whether or not they are likely to be nests and monitor how the SBA deals with them. We will continue to record all strandings reported to us on the Seaturtle.org international database so that they are not “hidden”. In both instances it would be helpful if pictures and location details were also supplied. Strandings which show signs of being deliberately harmed (e.g. head injuries) should also be reported to the SBA police. We will not engage in any activities which require us to be licensed (such as caging and excavating nests or moving bodies) but this should enable us to keep a reasonable check on the performance of the SBA and to raise challenges if appropriate. We welcome your thoughts on this, and if you would like to participate please let us know.
Regrettably we shall not be organising our normal large scale cleans as given the dishonesty and hostility exhibited by the SBA we are likely to find ourselves harassed for doing so. We have no intention of spending hours in a police station defending ourselves against trumped up accusations of dumping rubbish! We do hope, however, that you will help the cause by continuing to pick up rubbish when you visit a beach.
Our inability to undertake “licensed” activities does significantly reduce our need for funding. We currently hold grant funding of €2,000 which was awarded specifically to undertake survey work. This work should be completed by the end of July and any remaining funds will be disposed of in accordance of the wishes of the Leventis Foundation which was the awarding body. Outside of this we hold approximately €1900 which has been largely raised from a variety of bodies and individuals within the Limassol area. It would be impossible to return each donation but we do believe that the funds should be returned to the community. We are therefore contacting the mayor of Limassol with a view to donating the money to help provide food and goods for the many poor and needy people in the area. With this in mind we would also like to go ahead with our usual start of season get together at Curium Beach and combine it with donating the funds and hopefully, with your help, also some foodstuffs, baby nappies etc. We will obtain a list of the items which are most required and circulate it ahead of the event. We will also have the remaining stock of T shirts, mugs etc available for members making a donation of any size.
We apologise for the delay in bringing you up to date on these events but we had hoped to have received some communication from the SBA nominated OIC which we could pass on to you. No doubt it will arrive at the end of the nesting season when he is less busy!
Best wishes and thanks.
Linda, David, Ruth, Frank and Tony.