Turtles in danger on Zakynthos – in Greece

October 23, 2011 by  

It seems that the future is uncertain for the Caretta Caretta or Loggerhead sea turtles on Zakynthos, as I discovered while visiting the Greek island where my sister lives. Yesterday, I looked in at the Earth Sea and Sky Wildlife Information Centre at Gerakas to have a chat with the director, Yannis Vardakastanis about his efforts this season to preserve the turtles and other wildlife. The Laganas Bay area of Zakynthos is a major nesting site for the turtles, who return here year after year to make their nests on the warm sandy beaches.

Yannis Vardakastanis at Earth Sea Sky Information Centre in Gerakas Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Yannis Vardakastanis at Earth Sea Sky Information Centre in Gerakas

But Yannis was not a happy man as he told me how the numbers of turtle nests counted this year have dropped 30% since 2010. Despite having renovated the information centre with attractive traditional Zakynthian stonework, created a new aquarium and continued to educate visitors about wildlife conservation this past year, Yannis was not optimistic about the future of turtles on Zakynthos.

The numbers of loggerhead turtle nests counted by Yannis and his team of volunteers are well down on last year, only 716 in 2011 compared to 1053 in 2010. Yannis showed me the graph of total nests in Laganas bay that has been maintained since 1984 when nest numbers typically ranged between 1000 and 1500, but in the last 5 years the average number of nests has dropped and rarely exceeded 1000. The turtle nest count this year is about as low as it’s ever been. The hatchlings that survive to adulthood will return here to Zakynthos to make their own nests in another 25 year’s time, as turtles always return to the spot that they were born. But if the downward trend continues, Yannis predicts there will be no more turtles on Zakynthos for future generations to enjoy.

Earth Sea Sky information centre at Gerakas on Zakynthos Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Earth Sea Sky information centre at Gerakas on Zakynthos

The numbers of dead and injured turtles was also higher than Yannis would have liked – around 40 this year due to rubbish pollution, getting tangled in fishermen’s nets or being struck by boats. Although boats, apart from the turtle spotting tours, are not allowed in the National Marine Park of Zakynthos, accidents continue to happen and the fishermen often regard the turtles as competitors for their catch and a threat to their livelihood.

The economic crisis in Greece is also a mixed blessing for the turtles. At least the pressure for further building within the conservation area around Laganas bay has abated for a while, since no-one has the money to build hotels near turtles nesting beaches as they did in the past. Yet the government cutbacks mean there are less wardens than in previous years, employed by the National Marine Park of Zakynthos to safeguard the turtle nesting sites. Yannis and his volunteers at Gerakas continue to work with the Marine park to count nests, maintain the natural habitats and keep them clear of rubbish, as well as educating visitors to the area about the turtles on Zakynthos.

Turtle nest on Gerakas Beach in Zakynthos, Greece Photo:Heatheronhertravels.com

Turtle nest on Gerakas Beach in Zakynthos, Greece

At least Yannis is cautiously optimistic about the situation at Gerakas beach, where the numbers of turtle nests are being maintained. Next year, he has plans to expand the information centre further to add an area where rescued and injured turtles can be cared for until they can be released back into the wild. If you’re visiting the lovely unspoiled beach at Gerakas, do look in at the Earth Sea and Sky information centre to learn more about turtle and wildlife conservation on Zakynthos. In the meantime, here’s how you can do your bit while you enjoy your holiday on Zakynthos.

Heather on Gerakas beach on Zakynthos in Greece Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather on Gerakas beach on Zakynthos in Greece

Do your bit to conserve the turtles on Zakynthos

  • Make sure you take all your rubbish home from the beach, especially plastic bags which turtles can mistake for a tasty jellyfish snack.
  • If you visit a turtle nesting beach, keep well clear of the turtle nests that will be marked and roped off.
  • Don’t venture onto turtle nesting sites at night or shine any bright lights on these beaches – the hatchlings use the lights reflected off the sea to guide them and may be confused by other lights on the shore.
  • If you are lucky enough to spot a turtle while swimming, observe them from a distance to avoid them any distress as they can also deliver a nasty bite if you get too close.
  • If you take a boat tour around Laganas bay, don’t choose an operator that guarantees you a turtle sighting or your money back. This practice encourages boats to seek out and harass the declining numbers of turtles in the bay.
  • I can highly recommend the turtle-friendly catamaran boat trips organized by Yannis company, Nature World Travel through the summer season where you will enjoy the wonderful scenery, swim in clear turquoise waters and into limestone sea caves and learn about the natural beauty of the area from Yannis and his team, as well as possibly spotting a turtle from the boat.

For more information about the turtles on Zakynthos

Earth Sea and Sky website
Earth Sea and Sky on Twitter
Earth sea and sky on Facebook
Earth Sea and Sky on Youtube
Nature World Travel – Yannis tourism company offering turtle-friendly boat trips and other excursions
Ionian Eco Villagers – Green eco-holidays in Greece – self-catering villas on Zakynthos in the areas of Vasilikos and Gerakas
National marine Park of Zakynthos – the government agency that manages and protects the area around Laganas Bay containing the turtle nesting beaches.

Video about the Catamaran boat trips run by Yannis in Laganas bay

Video interview with Yannis Vardakastanis about the turtles on Zakynthos

If you can’t see the two videos above, view them in my blog post here

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

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Comments

5 Comments on "Turtles in danger on Zakynthos – in Greece"

  1. Barbara Weibel on Mon, 24th Oct 2011 3:32 am 

    Every time I turn around I read about another endangered animal. Perhaps it’s especially on my mind at the moment, as I just did a week’s tour of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador and learned how man decimated the land tortoise population there, some of the species even to extinction. And then I learned about boats caught harvesting sharks – cutting off the fins and dumping the carcases back in the water, all so some Japanese person can serve $60 per bowl shark fin soup at his daughter’s wedding. I am thoroughly sickened by the way we continue to destroy the planet and worried that when we finally wake up it will be too late. I appreciate you taking the time to tell this story, Heather, as every little bit of education helps.
    Barbara Weibel´s last blog post ..PHOTO: Solar Panels Aboard Ecoventura Yacht Run All Navigational Equipment During Cruise in Galapagos Islands of Ecuador

  2. Heather on Mon, 24th Oct 2011 1:51 pm 

    @Barbara Yes, it seems that money always speaks louder than sustaining the planet and natural environment long term

  3. Donna Hull on Tue, 25th Oct 2011 3:59 pm 

    A valuable article on the efforts to save turtles in Greece. I especially like the list of ideas that visitors to Zakynthos can do to help.
    Donna Hull´s last blog post ..Learning to Surf at Las Olas

  4. Jessica on Sat, 17th Dec 2011 12:58 pm 

    Yes we must save turtles in Greece and and other endangered species.
    Jessica´s last blog post ..Changi Airport Singapore

  5. On the party flight to Zante | Heather on her travels on Mon, 16th Jul 2012 10:14 am 

    […] to tell them it’s one of the foremost nesting sites on the island for the increasingly rare Caretta Caretta turtle.Arrival at Zante AirportThe plan’s touchdown is greeted with whoops and whistles. The doors […]

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