The Natura 2000 sites that will be targeted are the Cape Greco (CY3000005) and Nisia (CY3000006), which are of particular ecological importance due the extended presence of priority habitats with foundation species. The healthy diverse meadows of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica and the intermittent areas of hard substrates forming rocky reefs in both of these areas, form an ideal environment for organisms of all taxa from macrophytes, invertebrates and ichthyofauna to herpetofauna. Additionally, the presence of submerged or semi-submerged caves increases the habitat heterogeneity and complexity of the areas. Lionfish aggregate at rocky habitat with caves, where they can threaten the integrity of the reefs and cause subsequent damages to the ecosystem. Cape Greco was established as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on the 22nd of May 2018, which was the International Day of Biodiversity. The selection of these areas to concentrate the removal efforts during this project is largely attributed to the fact that the higher lionfish abundances in the Mediterranean are reported from this region.
The targeted sites of the project also include MPA’s with wrecks and artificial reefs (i.e. Nemesis III, Liberty, Kyrenia – Ayia Napa and Zenobia). All the wrecks apart from Zenobia, have been recently sunk as part of a scheme aiming to promote diving tourism, protect the biodiversity and aid the replenishment of overfished fish stocks, co-funded by the EU Fisheries Fund 2007-2013 and the Cyprus Government. Zenobia sunk in 1980 and is well-known for its rich biodiversity and as one of the top diving destinations worldwide.
Within these sites, the lionfish have become established in relatively dense populations and threaten to disturb the ecological balance and induce community shifts. Biodiversity loss in these areas could severely impact the socio-economic sector as well, since the lionfish prey mostly on fish, which can negatively affect many commercial fish stocks. They can also make shipwrecks less attractive and dangerous dive destinations to recreational divers. Thanks to the high frequency in diving activities at these sites, data acquirement concerning the lionfish densities could be easily achievable in order to materialise and assess the lionfish impacts and the efficacy of the removal efforts.