Sea turtles live on earth for more than 100 million years. They spend their lives in the sea and they come ashore to lay their eggs on sandy beaches during the appropriate season.
There are 7 species of sea turtles: Caretta-caretta, the green sea turtle, the leatherback sea turtle and others.
Sea turtles in Greece
Greece hosts these strange but beautiful animals. The sea turtle Caretta-caretta (known also as loggerhead sea turtle) has chosen the Greek waters to live in. They swim throughout the Greek Ocean.
Greece hosts some of the most important nesting beaches in the Mediterranean Sea: on the island of Zakynthos (Laganas Golf), on the island of Crete (Rethymnon, Chania, Messara), in Peloponnese (Kyparissia, Lakonia Golf, Koroni) and in the Ambrakikos Golf (north-west Greece).
According to research, the most important nesting beach of caretta-caretta in the whole Mediterranean Sea is located on the island of Zakynthos.
The nesting beaches are of great importance. Female turtles make their nests on sandy beaches where they lay their eggs. After cracking the eggshells, the newborn turtles start their life’s most important journey.
Relying on their DNA and their instinct, they are searching for their destination towards the open sea, where they will live for the rest of their life. This first journey is the most important as a lot of enemies are around: crabs, seagulls, fish and human presence (even the city lights may disorient the young turtles).
If they make it to the sea, the female ones will return to the same beach 20 years later to lay their own eggs! Those beaches are often destroyed because of tourist and settlement development but also because of climate changes.
The young turtles are disoriented by the city lights, they are entangled in plastic bags or they become prey of dogs and foxes. Unfortunately, only 1 out of 1000 newborn turtles arrive in the sea.
The dangers for the turtles do not stop as soon as they arrive at the sea. A sea turtle lives about 80 years. During this period the turtle has to face more enemies. The biggest enemy is human. It is to notice that most turtles that need treatment have injuries caused by fishing gear this has led the sea turtle to be an endangered species.
This situation has led to the creation of a lot of associations whose aim is the protection of the sea turtles and their habitats in Greece. Archelon, Medasset, and WWF are some of them.
They try to protect the nesting beaches, keep them clean and help the newborn turtles to reach the sea. Beach controls, and excavation of nests to find “belated” young turtles and lead them safely to the sea are some of their duties.
The action of those organizations includes the treatment of hurt turtles to eliminate their mortality rate. So there are a lot of rescue centres that provide the turtles with the first aid or host them until they are ready to swim again and survive on their own in the open sea.
It is also very important that these organizations co-operate with the local authorities and businesses (such as hotels). In Rethymnon for example, Archelon is an advisor to the Environmental Department of Grecotel on issues such as coastal management.
The hotels implement management suggestions of Archelon relative to the reproductive habitat of sea turtles (they remove umbrellas, heavy lighting and everything that could disturb the procedure).
Volunteers have a crucial role in the rescue of sea turtles.
Next time you are on a nesting beach, get informed about the turtles and try to do everything you can to help them. The most important is to seek the least possible disturbance to the animal.
You can find more info on the website of Medasset.