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Spotting Sea Turtles in Cyprus

Sea Turtles in Cyprus

 

Turtles

Turtles are gorgeous creatures; large yet graceful, slow yet fast . Photo Credit: Royce Hatch

In this month of September we Scuba Monkeys have been enjoying the beautiful sightings of turtles on the majority of our dives. They are gorgeous creatures; large yet graceful, slow yet fast when they want to be. Turtles in the Mediterranean are slightly different to those found in the Atlantic. Their populations were established quite recently in the big scheme of things – just after the last glacial period – and the somewhat closed system of the Med means that they have evolved with small differences compared to other turtles in other oceans.

 

So why do we see so many in the month of September? Quite simply, it is because it is nesting season and they are all making their way to their favorite nesting areas. I wanted to share my passion for turtles in this week’s blog. I hope you love them as much as i do!

 

 

 

Turtles

Nesting distribution of green turtles in the Mediterranean.

The two most common species found in the Mediterranean Sea are the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) and the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas). Both species may be found in the Mediterranean, but each choose to nest in different regions.  Loggerhead Turtles nest on beaches all over the Mediterranean Basin, but the Green turtle is much more selective. 99% of them nest in Turkey and Cyprus. This narrow geographical region has been experiencing higher and higher levels of tourism over the last 20 years. Tourism is  continually increasing from year to year, posing higher and higher threats to their precious nesting beaches.

 

The green turtle is on the critically endangered list according to the International World Conservation Union and their protection is urgent. So what are the largest threats to the green turtle? What can we do to help?

 

 

Threats To Green Turtles:

 

Low hatch rate:

Green turtles take 30 years to reach maturity. 30 years before they are ready to breed. Only females will come ashore to lay eggs, generally in the area where they were born. They nest several times during a nesting season every 2-4 years over the course of their lifetime. Egg incubation, emergence of eggs and the descent of hatchlings to the sea are all declining, meaning that less and less turtles reach breeding age. This is a big problem.

 

Tourism:

The impact of tourism is astounding. It affects so many areas of the green turtle’s’ life cycle that it is hardly surprising that their numbers are declining so dramatically.

  • Turtles

    Stationary lights confuse turtles

    Stationary lights confuse hatchlings, mistaking them for the moon they often miss the water and head towards a streetlight instead.

 

 

 

 

  • Moving Lights: Scare females away
  • Sunbeds: These form physical barriers on the beach that block hatchlings from being able to successfully navigate to the sea.
  • Nest collapse: People walk over the nest chambers causing them to collapse.
  • Turtles

    Watersports Scare turtles

    Watersports: Collisions are often fatal, and at the very least scare turtles away from the beaches they are  desperately heading for

 

 

 

  • Turtles

    Tourists driving on turtle beaches are the surest way to collapse any nests there

    Driving on beaches: Quad bikes and buggies are everywhere, they are a “must have’ for most tourists in Cyprus and the off road thrill  is encouraged. Tourists driving on turtle beaches are the surest way to collapse any nests there,  and at the very least terrify any females wishing to lay eggs there.

 

 

 

 

Pollution

Turtles

Don’t make turtles eat your rubbish – Put it in the bin!

The Mediterranean Sea is mostly a closed one. Pollutants rapidly build up and affect the ecosystem. The list of domestic waste is seemingly endless. 1-3 tonnes of waste per mile of coastline was estimated after a French beach cleanup in 1997. Cyprus is no different. the amount of waste that I observe in the oceans is increasing at an alarming rate. Plastic bags resemble jellyfish – the juvenile turtles favorite snack – and these are lethal for them to ingest. Be AWARE and make every dive a “Dive Against Debris” by picking up rubbish while you dive. The turtles with thank you!

 

 

 

 

Natural Habitat Changes

Turtles

Turtles feel the effects of beach erosion

The world’s shape and form is continuously evolving. Coastlines change; the slope and angle of beaches are always in a state of transition. This is natural in the big scheme of things and there is little to do. Global warming however has an interesting affect on green turtles. As reptiles, they rely on the temperature of the sand in which the eggs incubate to determine the gender of the hatchling in a nest. Typically, the eggs in the lower, cooler, part of the nest will become males, while the eggs in the upper, warmer, part of the nest will become females. With increasing nest temperatures, scientists predict that there will be more female than male hatchlings, creating a significant threat to genetic diversity

 

 

 

Fishing:

Turtles

Green turtles often get caught in nets and then drown as they are unable to get to the surface to breathe

Bycatch is when one species is caught by a fisherman unintentionally. Green turtles often get caught in nets and then drown as they are unable to get to the surface to breathe. Fishery laws state that any turtle that is found alive in a net should be returned to the sea. An average of 500 turtles are caught in nets in  Turkey and Cyprus alone. 90% are alive when they are caught….but i know from first hand experience that most Cypriot  fisherman hate turtles, they “destroy their precious nets” and so they are in the habit of killing them before throwing them overboard. It is heartbreaking. It is totally unnecessary. It makes me emotional just to write this.  

500 turtles as bycatch is a huge number. Studies have shown that 339-369 green turtles nest every year in Cyprus. The lowest number of nests recorded was 135 and the highest was 461 (Margaritoulis et al., 2003).It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.Sea turtle hatchlings eat a variety of prey including things like molluscs and crustaceans, hydrozoans, sargassum seaweed, jellyfish, and fish eggs. Unfortunately, hatchlings also mistake garbage and objects like tar balls as food and ingest them.

 

Turtles: Nesting beaches in Cyprus

 

  1. Lara Bay
  2. Toxefra Bay
  3. Agia Napa (until 1977) Tourism made nesting impossible
  4. Karpaz Peninsula

 

What can you do to help?

The Society of Protection of Turtles (SPOT) in North Cyprus is a non-profit organisation. They have been dedicated to the protection of sea turtles in Cyprus and Turkey since 1992. They help sea turtle populations increase their numbers through education, protection and hands on help from staff and volunteers.

 

Turtles

SPOT staff and volunteers help increase the number of surviving adults for the future

 

Left to their own devices, only 1 sea turtle hatchling out of a 1000 eggs will actually make it from their nest to the sea, and then they need 30 years to get to breeding age themselves. SPOT staff and volunteers help increase the number of surviving adults for the future in a number of ways:

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Nest Screening: Nests will be relocated to a safer area if they are at risk from beach erosion
  2. Monitoring nests at night
  3. Measuring turtles,  geo-tagging and data trackers attached to some
  4. Nest temperature monitoring
  5. Nests protected from predators (dogs etc:)
  6. Educating tourists and locals
  7. Working with the fisheries departments
  8. Hatchling release: This is a big public event. Participants can name and release a single hatchling into the world to help it on its way.

 

It is hoped that these measures will protect future numbers of sea turtles in Cyprus. You can visit the center yourself and join in, every hand and  mind that is touched will benefit this species’ survival. Every turtle makes our sea richer, every hatchling released stands a better chance to return to the same beach to lay its own eggs one day. You never know – if you take your child to the SPOT center this holiday, the turtle they release could be the turtle that lays its eggs for your grandchildren to release in 30 years time.

 

Wouldn’t that be special?

 

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