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Saving the Caretta Caretta turtles on Zakynthos – in Greece

Saving the Caretta Caretta turtles on Zakynthos – in Greece

If you are interested in the Caretta Caretta Turtles on the Greek island of Zakynthos (Zante) and want to travel with a small footprint, you’ll enjoy my interview with Yannis Vardakastanis from the Earth Sea and Sky centre on Zakynthos.

On my holidays to the Greek island of Zakynthos, I’ve often visited the Turtle information centre at Gerakas beach, run by Earth Sea and Sky organisation, dedicated to preserving wildlife in the Ionian Islands. Yannis Vardakastanis who runs the centre, has won several conservation awards for his work to preserve the Caretta Caretta, or Loggerhead Turtles that nest on the beach near where he grew up. Here’s my interview with Yannis which will interest all of you committed to travelling in harmony with the natural environment.

Yannis, your family’s from this part of Zakynthos, so what got first got you interested in the turtles?

The thing that got me interested in the turtles was the richness of wildlife you see around you. It’s so important for us to save them, and preserve them for the next generation. The sea turtles have been here for thousands of years using the beaches of Zakynthos at Gerakas. I grew up here, and my family comes from this area of the island, so my first steps of life were down on Gerakas beach and I grew up playing with the turtles and swimming with them. In those days it was just me and my family and sometimes I found myself in the middle of the summer in July and August on my own with the turtles.

Since tourists started visiting the island in the early 1980’s when the first charter flights came to the island, I saw a lot of people visiting the beach and slowly, slowly the numbers grew, and I recognised that there would be a problem in the future. So in the early 90’s I made a decision to get away from the beach. I used to run the the beach bar, the sunbeds, umbrellas and pedalos and I started to feel that I was part of the problem and I didn’t want that, because this is my home, this is where I learned to walk my first steps.

So now you have the Earth Sea and Sky Wildlife centre at Gerakas, tell us about the work you’re doing there?

I started Earth Sea and Sky around ten years ago, but my work here started long before, trying to inform visitors coming here how to protect this areas, especially the turtles, the beach, the birds, the reptiles, and all the creatures of the area. Also the very important issues such as climate change, the local resorts, the bush fires. I want to educate the visitors that come to this area, to be careful how they spend their holidays in this area but also to get the right message to take back home and do the same thing back where they come from. So we try to promote tourism but in the right way.

What would you say the main threats are to the turtle population here?

The loggerhead sea turtles live in the Mediterranean and they don’t move out of it. The only predators the sea turtles have in this part of the world are humans, and the threat from human activities. The turtle’s survival is the human’s responsibility. We try to educate people to respect the turtles – if we don’t care about the turtles nesting sites or we use the speed boats here, then we are the biggest threat to the turtles – we should recognise that soon we may cause their extinction.

So if people want to come and see the turtles on Zakynthos, but they want to do it in a responsible way, what advice would you give them?

If you go on a boat trip to see the turtles, you should make sure the boat is friendly to the environment, that it doesn’t pollute the water and doesn’t allow visitors on the boat to throw litter into the sea. You should make sure the sewage system is working and that they don’t throw their sewage in the sea, because it can enter the turtles’ stomachs. They must respect the laws of the marine park. The laws are very clear – they must not be closer than 10 m to the turtle, they have to slow down and not drive fast around them, and not chase them. Any turtles in distress should be left alone – this is the best way to discover the turtles by boat.

You also have volunteers who come and work with you, on these conservation projects, so how can people get involved in that?

They can contact me by e-mail via my website or and we can organise for them to come out here, to join us and work with us to preserve the marine life on Zakynthos and also the other wildlife – like birds and the reptiles and insects. In ecology everything is connected to each other so we have to protect them all to give a chance to these beautiful creatures.

Do you have any more projects in the pipeline?

I already started some activity holidays, with conservation work where you go out into the environment and see wildlife, at the same time you help protect them, and preserve them – we clean the beaches and do any work that needs to be done to make sure these creatures have the right environment for survival.

How do you enjoy working with the visitors who come to Zakynthos?

I really enjoy working with the visitors who come here, especially those who give us great help -not only help with their hands but also in creating an economy to support this beautiful area. They help to preserve the culture of the area, to keep the Greek families happy, bringing benefit on both sides, for humans and wildlife, especially the turtles.

You can find out more about the work to conserve the turtles and other wildlife on Zakynthos, and opportunities to join the conservation volunteer programme on the Earth Sea and Sky Website. If you’re visiting Zakynthos, you can join eco-friendly excursions and boat trips to see the turtle, through Yannis’ eco-tourism company and if you’d like an eco-friendly place to stay at Gerakas, check out the Ionian Eco Villagers for traditional stone built villas and apartments to rent.

You may also enjoy

Turtles and Plastic bags in Greece
Blue fishing boats on Zakynthos
My top three beaches on Zakynthos

This article is originally published at – Read the original article here

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Thursday 30th of August 2018

Beach is closed from 7pm till 7 to protect the turtles but so Mandy people still swimming late and why on Thomas cook holidays dose it say have a moon light walk along the beach and see the turtles

Heather Cowper

Friday 31st of August 2018

@Brian I think there are lots of issues as so many people are excited to see the turtles and yet it just leads to them being harassed. It would be worth you contacting any tour operators you see that are not respecting the rules of the nature park as it is a protected zone.

Sioned Wilson

Thursday 31st of March 2016

In school we have been learning about Zakinthos' turtle island. When coming across this website i was thrilled. I have learnt so much more about the turtle island and I'm chuffed. We have learnt about how Yannis helped the turtle island and it was great hearing another side of the story. It is fascinating how one man can start something that has gone global and helped so many turtles. one day i would love to go to the turtle island and witness this miracle again. Thank you Heather for having this website so more people can learn about Yannis' story and hopefully reach out to more people. :) When you were at Zakinthos did you manage to speak to Yannis and hear his thoughts for the future? :)

Heather Cowper

Thursday 31st of March 2016

@Sioned Thanks for the comment, my sister lives on Zakynthos so we go each year to visit her and usually I will pop into the Earth Sea Sky centre to see what they are doing - they are a dedicated bunch but sadly the turtle numbers are declining. They have a volunteer programme if you are ever interested in going out there.

Sue Moore

Saturday 3rd of October 2015

We have just got back from Zante on holiday ,we went on a tourist boat to see the loggerhead turtles , it deeply upset me how the boats were going round and round chasing this one turtle ,so busy ,the turtle was hounded it was disgusting ,maybe I was abit naive but I was shocked ,surely more can be done to protect them .

Heather Cowper

Saturday 3rd of October 2015

@Susan I'm sorry you had this experience. The rules of the marine park are that each boat can only stay for a certain time near the turtle and they should not harass or surround the turtle. Unfortunately the turtles are getting fewer and fewer in number and every boat tour wants to give their guest that experience of seeing the turtles so the few there are in in danger of being harassed as you found. I think the responsible thing is to never book with anyone who will guarantee you to see a turtle as this leads to more harassment and also perhaps it is better not to book a specific 'turtle spotting tour' but to do a pleasant boat trip that stops for a swim and if you see a turtle that's a bonus.


Wednesday 26th of June 2013

Nice article, Gerakas is a beautiful beach and well protected.

Did you not meet any of the ARCHELON volunteers who work on the beaches with the turtles?

Heather Cowper

Wednesday 26th of June 2013

@Laurance I love gerakas beach although it probably isn't ideal to have so many visitors to a beach with turtles nesting tehre. I didn't get a chance to talk to the Archelon volunteers but had a look around the Earth Sea Sky centre at Gerakas

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