I’ve just got back from my second trip to the greek islands, this time I visited Zante, world famous for the Loggerhead sea turtles who nest on the islands beaches every year. Last time I was in Crete, who also have turtles nesting on their beaches, all be it in fewer places and fewer numbers.
Sounds lovely doesn’t it, so what’s the issue?
The Loggerhead sea turtle is classified as Endangered on the IUCN red list of threatened species, and every year its numbers are dwindling.
Conservation has always required human interest to a degree, if people don’t care then there is no interest, no interest means no funds, and no funds often mean very limited work can be done to help these animals. Unfortunately most things cost some money to run, even basic equipment and overhead costs can be prohibitively expensive on some projects.
But people love sea turtles, and actively go to the greek islands because of them, wanting to see one, and supporting the projects. This in itself seems great, because there’s interest, so some revenue may be able to fund the projects.
Unfortunately, the problem with this is that a lot of tourism agencies see this as a money making opportunity, offering boat trips which ‘guarantee’ you will see a sea turtle. In order to do this they often chase turtles around so they get disorientated and come to the surface, causing an unbelievable amount of stress during the breeding season. Worse still, turtles often end up with horrific injuries as a result of being run over by the boats etc.
The result of this is the boat trips get the money off of tourists who often don’t enjoy chasing these turtles around as they see how stressed they get, but its too late after you’re on the boat and have paid, and the non-profit centres trying to save these animals don’t see a penny.
Above – Zakynthos Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Vassilikos
Don’t get me wrong, I love turtles, and seeing them in the wild is amazing, and everyone should have that opportunity, but you must do so respectfully and with full awareness. It is suggested that sailing trips are a much better way of trying to see the animals by chance, where the engine is off and you just watch and wait, if a turtle pops their head up great, amazing, lucky you, if they don’t then try again next time. Again with swimming/snorkelling, if your lucky enough to have one swim up next to you amazing, but don’t touch it or chase it, appreciate its beauty and let it stay or swim away as it chooses.
Another problem is that 1000s of these animals nest on the beaches, but the beaches are full of tourists, and sunbeds, and people digging sand to make sandcastles.
Most of the beaches in Greece have dedicated volunteers who go out early in the morning and find the turtle tracks leading to the nest, count the eggs and cover them with a wooden shelter so people are aware there is a nest there, and I was lucky enough to spend a morning with a team from Archelon Sea Turtle Protection Society whilst staying in Crete, helping them do just that.
Turtle tracks on the beach (above), a nest marked out with a blue cage (below)
Relocating a nest (below)
But unfortunately the beaches are often too full, sunbeds restrict turtles nesting at night, and the bright lights from hotels confuse the hatchlings as they try and make their way to the sea front. Work is being done by local organisations to improve this, but as a tourist in the area, you can do you part by being aware of the beaches you are on, staying at least 5 metres away from any nests and not using sunbeds on nesting beaches.
Above – Here you can see the wooden cages marking out where nests are, and the sunbeds in front of them which would block the path of a nesting turtle.
Things can improve if people become more aware, we all love turtles but unfortunately their numbers are dwindling, only 1 in every 1000 hatchlings actually makes it to become an adult mating turtle, which is why it is so vitally important that the nests are protected, more needs to be done and as a savvy turtle tourist you can definitely do your bit!
I would like to say a massive thank you to Archelon Sea Turtle Protection Society for letting me shadow their volunteers, and to Zakynthos Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Vassilikos where I got a lot of this information from – please do take the opportunity to visit if you are in the area.
Note the image at the top of this page is of a Green sea turtle I saw whilst snorkelling in Australia, I haven’t seen a Loggerhead sea turtle so have no picture to show you!