Cyprus Audit Office: EO to support beach inspections, improve coastal management, and prevent environmental damage

The Cyprus Audit Office integrated satellite imagery in an audit of the country’s beaches to detect illegal buildings, activities that do not comply with the National Beach Usage Plans, and anthropogenic and natural phenomena that contribute to coastal erosion. 


The Cyprus Audit Office

The Cyprus Audit Office is an independent State Authority of the Republic of Cyprus. It is responsible for auditing the accounts of the central government, ministries, local administrations, and national public organisations. The mission of the Office is to conduct quality financial, performance and compliance audits in the wider public sector for the purpose of public reporting, thus enhancing transparency and accountability. The Office contributes to the efficient and effective management of public resources, reducing the mismanagement of public funds and corruption.

The challenge

Cypriot coastline and beaches are the habitats of many animal and vegetal species, some of which are considered as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Every year, beaches bring millions of tourists to Cyprus. Indeed, tourism represents a vital source for the country’s economy, but its substantial increase, with the creation of new touristic infrastructures, could also pose threats to the island’s biodiversity.

In 2016, to ensure effective coastal management, the Office conducted an audit to evaluate the measures implemented by the competent authorities to protect the coastline and contain the effects of the potential threats related to mass tourism and illegal activities. The audit’s goal was to understand how coastal protection measures are implemented, to identify illegal structures in the national Coastal Protected Zone, and to detect activities that do not comply with the National Beach Usage Plan. To do this, the Audit Office needed reliable data that could help them in picturing the evolution of the coastline and assess the effects of tourism and man-made activities on the island.

The satellite solution

To realise the Audit, the Office submitted questionnaires to local authorities, realised visits to collect in-situ data, and interviewed public officers and non-governmental organisations. Moreover, the Cyprus Audit Office relied on GIS technology to obtain information on land ownership and protected coastal zones. This information was needed to assess the potential effects of illegal buildings and mass tourism on coastal erosion.

Satellite imagery from multiple sources, including Sentinel-2 images, Google Earth and orthophotos from the Department of Lands and Surveys, was used to map the entire island and to draw a temporal perspective of the evolution of the coastline. The satellite images used by the Audit Office were retrieved by the digitised cadastral maps developed by the Cyprus Department of Lands and Surveys and made freely available online through a dedicated portal.

The results

Thanks to the GIS technology, the Audit Office was able to assess the evolution of coastal erosion and of illegal building sprawl during         the  last years, and to estimate the potential economic impacts on the long run.

The use of satellite data provided the Audit Office with a broad vision of the geographic area surrounding the island, allowing it to perform a broad inspection of the coastline, while drastically reducing the time and costs dedicated to the audit. Indeed, in-situ observations were only necessary to validate contrasting data and information.