Every year in the Mediterranean Sea, hundreds of turtles nest on the beaches and thousands of hatchlings make their way to the sea. Apart from the well known large nesting beaches, in Greece there are hundreds of small remote beaches where each year only a few turtles will nest. However, since these areas are not recognized as nesting locations, these
beaches are neither protected nor monitored, hence making these nests highly vulnerable. Frequently the initiatives of locals and visitors who spot and locate the nests or the young turtles and alert the appropriate organisations who can take action, can drastically help in the protection of these charismatic animals.
In recent years as part of the large effort to locate and protect these small turtle nesting sites, Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation has joined forces with the local communities and visitors of the islands, in order to monitor as many nesting sites as possible. In the summer of 2018 interested members of the public from many coastal regions of Greece, mainly the north Aegean and the Dodecanese islands informed us about turtle nests they spotted. Depending on the case, different protection and management measures were taken.
A Good Example of Cooperation Between Citizens & Scientists
Mid way through the summer, on a particularly busy beach, residents of South West Samos found 3 nests of loggerhead turtles. This was one of the many occasions where residents and visitors worked in conjunction with Archipelagos Institute researchers to take immediate action. Patrolling helped minimise the anthropogenic disturbance such as noise, digging and unnatural light pollution, with the aim to ensure greater success of the hatching process. Through their involvement in these actions, the members of the public whom we collaborate with, share conservation messages and their own personal experience to friends and other islanders. Our work with the public is very important and helps us to protect future nests in these small beaches around the Aegean where sea turtles may nest.
Turtle eggs need 40-60 days to hatch and begin their journey in life. The young turtles gradually rise out from their nest usually for a period that can take 1-7 days. However, there are increasing cases where lights from human development disorientate small turtles. This forces them to go in a direction opposite to the sea, towards roads where they can be hit by cars or die of starvation. Five days after the end of the hatching period, following international protocols, Archipelagos’ researchers opened the nests in order to gather valuable data on the number of successfully hatched eggs, those that did not hatch and the nest characteristics. This data helps to fill the large knowledge gaps that exist with regard to sea turtles in the Mediterranean with a special focus on the Aegean Sea.
Unfortunately, due to direct and indirect human disruption, numerous factors can influence the success of the egg laying and the hatching process. In the Mediterranean, sea turtles usually lay their eggs between May and June. The male turtles may never head inland during their lifetime, however, once the females reach the coast, which is usually at night time, they choose a specific area to dig and leave their eggs. Studying and monitoring of these animals is particularly difficult and scientific research aims to cover the large knowledge gaps on sea turtles and their reproduction.
Under optimal conditions the probability of their survival is minimal. It is estimated that only one in a thousand young turtles will survive to adulthood. Sea turtles have lived in our seas for more than 120 million years, however nowadays, human activity is jeopardising their future. They are confronted with numerous human-related threats: plastics that have been widely dispersed in marine ecosystems and often cause their death, collisions with high-speed vessels and boats, chemical pollution and general habitat degradation. The nesting beaches also attract thousands of tourists, causing relative noise and light pollution, while reducing their food stock, another important threat factor.
In times of ever increasing human activity in the coasts and seas, the survival of this long living but vulnerable species will depend upon the effectiveness of targeted research as well as local awareness campaigns that encourage responsible participation.
Dr. Guido Pietroluongo, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Head of Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Research
If you locate an injured or entangled sea turtle or a turtle nest in the eastern Aegean islands, immediately contact Archipelagos Institute at +302273061191 (and for emergencies 6987222456) or email [email protected]