Ocean Rangers Cyprus is a new, local non-profit organisation with the mission to protect the sea and all the life it supports.
Speaking to The Cyprus Daily, its founder Stef Horta revealed how the idea of starting the organisation came about as well as some of its plans for the future.
"I have been living in Cyprus for five years now. One of my weekend activities has been scuba diving for pleasure. A couple of months ago a friend looking at my Facebook page commented that he never saw any fish in my scuba diving photos," he said.
At first joking that "it is easier to find fish on Mars than in Cyprus," Horta also said the comment had opened his eyes and the idea of creating a non-profit organisation to protect the sea was born.
"There are some laws, some protected areas, even new wrecks but I sometimes wonder if anyone is really protecting them or if they have instead become something like aquariums for illegal fishing."
Admitting that he sometimes heard dynamite being used — an illegal fishing practice — and was certain some fishermen were still using nets that captured small young fish along with larger ones, Horta nonetheless underlined he did not want to take an aggressive approach towards them.
"I want to tell the people of Cyprus to come down to the beaches, to come to the sea and look for themselves at how empty it has become."
With years of professional experience in large enterprises, Horta's strong business sense has also helped him recognise the huge financial potential of the sea.
"I don't think going after the fishermen using illegal practices will work yet, but perhaps if we can show people that better money can be made through pursuits linked to the sea but which do not harm it, perhaps they will change their minds."
These pursuits, he suggested, including strengthening scuba diving and other water sport facilities as well as sailing. He also noted there was an artificial reef in Spain that brought in €10m per year because of the visitors, including researchers, it attracted.
"People are trying to feed their families so it's not easy to convince them to stop fishing but if you show them there are better ways to make money, they may start listening.
"With more and more members joining the organisation — as simple as liking our page on Facebook — we hope to garner enough numbers to be able to go to the government as say 'look how many of us want you to spend more money on protecting the sea,'" Horta said.
This spending would include better subsidies for fishermen so they would not feel the need to kill dolphins to prevent them destroying their nets.
He added that measures also had to be implemented: "People are going to speed down the highway no matter what the signs say if they known there are no policemen to ticket them; it's the same with the sea."
So far, Ocean Rangers Cyprus has organised a series of beach clean-ups and also organises talks for members.
"We are taking baby steps but I remember when Green Peace was started in the 1960s people laughed and now look what has been achieved. Also look how much power green parties in Europe have obtained," he said.
As an NGO, Ocean Rangers Cyprus needs sponsors to flourish and is currently also looking for a non-franchised café in Nicosia to become its club house and meeting place for members in the capital.
T-shirts have already been created for members to buy and Horta also plans to have membership cards printed to help raise more funds for the effort.
"I'm not 25 anymore, I used to be the CEO of companies. I am aware that we need to have a significant number of followers but do not want to go the political route, left, right or green. If we're organised, we could have 20,000 members by the end of the year. We can go and say that we want the sea back."
For more information on Ocean Rangers Cyprus, visit the NGO's Facebook page and, shortly, also official website www.oceanrangerscyprus.org
which is currently under construction. You can also contact Horta on 99366635.