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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more about the turtles on Zakynthos
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
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