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Peter Droussiotis: “As an island we are at a hot spot for climate change”

Peter Droussiotis, Chairman of the Cyprus Environment Foundation, talks to CBN about the Foundation’s objectives, what prompted him to set it up and how vital it is for Cyprus to act now to protect its natural environment.

You have just launched the Cyprus Environment Foundation. Can you please explain the objectives of this non-profit organisation?

The Cyprus Environment Foundation (CEF) is a non-profit organisation that aims to protect and enhance the natural beauty, biodiversity and ecosystems of our beloved Cyprus. CEF is part of the Conservation Collective, a global network of 20 organisations supporting local environmental projects. The way CEF operates is simple: Raising funds from individuals, foundations and companies and channelling that money in the form of grants to local organisations and initiatives to support environmental projects that have high importance and impact on the island.

What made you decide to set up this foundation?

When I was approached in late 2021 to engage with the Conservation Collective in relationship to the formation and development of CEF my colleagues and I on the Board of the UK Cyprus Enterprise Council (UKCEC) responded immediately and soon after, agreed to support this great project, both materially and intellectually. Our rationale is that Cyprus desperately needs this initiative and that the Cypriots living on the island themselves need to proactively embrace projects and actions designed to protect, restore, and enhance the island’s nature and environment. Additionally, as Cypriots of the diaspora, we feel compelled to make a vital contribution to this great cause. But, for me, personally, there is a more intimate reason as to why I want to add my energy to this project and that rests upon the treasured memories of a child born and raised on this golden-green island, of Cyprus’ beautiful and unspoiled landscapes, of its legendary mountains, its pine-scented forests and the perfectly blue seas that surround it.

Who are CEF’s collaborators in Cyprus?

CEF’s successful model for conservation depends on the development of relationships both with local environmental champions (grassroot non-for profit and research organisations working to protect and regenerate the natural environment of Cyprus) as well as individuals, corporates and other foundations with funding capacity and close ties to the island. To date, CEF has supported 19 projects collaborating with 14 different environmental organisations in Cyprus and since March 22' almost €150,000 has been channelled in the form of grants towards the conservation and restoration of the natural environment of the island. To achieve this, CEF has collaborated with over 10 trusts-foundations and corporates as well as received funding through individual donations. An integral part of CEF’s model is also its Advisory Board, a group of experts with a deep knowledge across all of the foundation’s areas of interest. These scientists and technical experts help the organisation form its conservation strategy and decide which are the most viable and impactful proposals to support.

How well do you think Cyprus is doing in terms of the environment? Do you believe the island is on good track to meet the climate targets?

Today we experience daily the effects of what scientists term as the Anthropocene. On our island, unique species and important habitats are being threatened with extinction every day. Cyprus is one of the European states with the highest rates in waste production – a figure that increases by 40% during the summer months due to tourism. The use of plastic is of particular concern to us since 80% of the trash collected on beaches is made up of plastic. And the fact that as an island we are at a hot spot for climate change and as one of the 6 nations with the highest crisis in water reserves, it signals that we have no time to waste. There is large room for improvement in terms of our environmental performance in Cyprus by employing more measures to protect our precious natural ecosystems and restore them where needed through the support of research, education, conservation and awareness activities.

What do you suggest the island can do to improve its environmental footprint?

A key point of success for any nation who is looking to assure their environmental viability in these challenging conditions, is to conserve and enhance its natural assets. On the one hand, more work is needed to protect the island’s healthy ecosystems to assure their existence for generations to come, and on the other hand projects should be employed that will help regenerate degraded natural landscapes. CEF’s current pipeline of projects includes an impressive range of 17 innovative projects and needs a budget over €200,000 to support them. As our co-founder and member of our Steering Committee Ben Goldsmith, likes to point out, relatively small amounts of money can create a great deal of environmental transformation on site when given to the right hands of local experts. The Foundation will not, of course, perform miracles, nor will it seek to address all of the many environmental challenges facing the island. But I am convinced that, through selected partnerships and alliances, and with the support of sponsors and benefactors it will make a significant difference on the ground in relation to a series of targeted and worthwhile projects that will help Cyprus achieve its environmental goals. So I would like to encourage individuals, corporates and organization with close ties to the island to support CEF’s work in any way they can, networking, connections and funding.

CEF works with local fishermen to protect indigenous endangered species. Can you name a few of these species and the steps being taken to protect them?

CEF has addressed the urgent need for efficient marine environmental protection through a series of activities ranging from public awareness and education, engagement with local stakeholders through citizen science tools and direct conservation of endangered species. Examples of supported projects include:

  1. The targeting of Invasive Alien Species, such as lionfish, by educating chefs on how to manipulate and cook them and by raising awareness amongst the general public on the importance to introduce such marine species to our plates. CEF has also organised 3 events this year where such species were included on the catering menu.
  2. Delivering interactive and interdisciplinary educative workshops to children of Cyprus to help them learn about crucial marine issues through music, puppetry, the visual arts, drama and storytelling.
  3. Investigating the current status of the critically endangered Pinna nobilis species in Cyprus waters - the largest endemic bivalve in the Mediterranean.
  4. Encouraging the conservation of the endangered guitarfish in eastern Mediterranean by engaging with the local fishers through citizen science tools and helping tag a population of the species in Cyprus waters.

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