The history of Salaria fluviatilis in Cyprus

Roland L. N. Michell was a British National who lived on the island of Cyprus periodically in the early 1900’s, he was not an ichthyologist nor was he a naturalist, his interest was mainly in ethnography but yet he must have been somewhat enamoured with the wildlife of Cyprus because not only did he collect the first examples ever recorded in Cyprus of Salaria fluviatilis, the freshwater ‘Blenny’, he also seems to have been the only person to ever have done so, and it took him 4-5 years before he succeeded!

Michell collected his specimens from less than a handful of rivers in the Limassol district and sent them to the Natural History Museum London in 1909 identified as Blennius varus (Pallas 1814), a junior synonym of Salaria fluviatilis. In his letter he addressed to Dr George A. Boulenger he wrote:

“It [Salaria fluviatilis] is found in 2 or 3 of the torrents of this District [Limmasol]. Nearly all of these run dry (or very nearly dry) during the hottest months of summer. I have been trying for 4–5 years to obtain specimens without success, and have only recently succeeded in getting a few”.

Salaria fluviatilis Cyprus specimen ©Natural History Museum London
©Natural History Museum London

The best preserved specimen of Michell’s 1909 deposit to the Natural History Museum was this mature male S. fluviatilis.

Recent work has been done to try and find Salaria fluviatilis in Cyprus, the campaign was spearheaded by Dr Stamatis Zogaris of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research of Greece throughout 2009-2012 and was supported by The Natural History Museum London. They examined a total of 170 different locations across 31 independent river basins in Cyprus but despite using electro-fishing techniques at 155 spots, no freshwater ‘Blenny’ was found; having identified through R. Michell’s letter to the Museum that S. fluviatilis is indeed a native species from Cyprus, their next step is to further the search for the Blenny on the island and initiate the discussion of re-introduction of this potentially regionally extinct species once again. A link to the research by Zogaris et al 2014 can be found by clicking here.

In July 2015, ‘LifePotamofauna’, an NGO established to protect European River Fauna conducted their first re-introduction of S. fluviatilis to the River Fluvia in Catalonia, Spain. A link to their work can be found by clicking here. One very important factor they highlight in their brief article is the overall diminished quality of the Fluvia river system being the main cause of the decline of all aquatic life there, not only the freshwater Blenny.

We are now more than ever in a position where it has become impossible to ignore the anthropogenic influences affecting the survival of many freshwater species across the world (so many of them endemic also) and considering the fragility of Salaria fluviatilis and its well-known intolerance of negative changes to water quality, a comprehensive approach which includes addressing the extensive overuse of dams in Cyprus is surely the only hope for its future in Cyprus? Official government figures show that there are 108 dams and reservoirs on the island of Cyprus and pending reliable sources, it is safe to say that all of the natural rivers have been dammed to preserve water.

Damming of river systems has huge impacts on the nature and behaviour of a river, “Dams influence riverine fish
assemblages by degrading downstream aquatic habitats, impeding fish movements, and by providing refuges for
non-indigenous fish populations” (Zogaris et al 2012)

I would presume that these changes are highly likely to be the cause of the decline and probable extinction ofsuch a sensitive species like Salaria fluviatilis in Cyprus and so before any re-introduction can go ahead, research into sustainable development of new-age water preservation methods, increased implementation of sustainable use of water resources, influence and effects of agriculture and farming on local river systems (both chemical and from tapping river systems) and a new approach to freshwater ecosystems much be addressed and put in place

At this stage, human development may not have left any niche for the freshwater Blenny to occupy…

Chris Englezou is the owner at C.E. Fish Essentials and founder of the Freshwater Life Project, an international freshwater fish conservation charity based in the UK. His passion for keeping and breeding ornamental fish has spanned over 25 years and has taken him deep into the jungles of Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, India; he is passionate about the freshwater biodiversity of the Mediterranean, particularly Cyprus.

Chris Englezou

Chris Englezou is the owner at C.E. Fish Essentials and founder of the Freshwater Life Project, an international freshwater fish conservation charity based in the UK. His passion for keeping and breeding ornamental fish has spanned over 25 years and has taken him deep into the jungles of Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, India; he is passionate about the freshwater biodiversity of the Mediterranean, particularly Cyprus.

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