Mediterranean Sea Turtles (A Good News COVID Story!)
Like the Team here at Ben’s Beach, sea turtles are committed beach lovers. Not only do female turtles return to the same beach each time they are ready to nest, they often return to the same spot on the same beach!
Sea turtles spend their lives migrating between foraging and nesting locations often travelling many thousands of miles. In February 2020, a turtle named Yoshi was tracked travelling between Australia and the waters off the coast of Angola in West Africa – a distance of 22,000 miles!
Both male and female sea turtles migrate back to nesting areas every 2-3 years and usually to the same place they were born. It is not known how turtles are able to navigate the oceans so efficiently but it is thought they use a combination of ocean currents, water chemistry and the earth’s magnetic field.
The Mediterranean Sea is host to three of the planet’s seven turtle species – the green, the leatherback and the loggerhead. The loggerhead gets its name from its large head and strong jaws which enable it to break open hard bivalve and crustacean shells (interestingly loggerheads and leatherbacks are omnivores eating both animals and plants whereas green turtles are pure vegetarian preferring seagrass and algae).
Zakynthos (or Zante) is a Greek Island that is home to some of the most important nesting sites for loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean (Mediterranean loggerheads only nest in Greece). Laganas Bay in the south of the island is home to the Med’s first national park of the protection of sea turtles which was established in 1999. In recent years the relative abundance of turtles in this area has been exploited by local tourist operators who run boats out into the bay and stray too close to the returning turtles. Turtle conservations groups such as Archelon have warned that turtles have become stressed from over-zealous turtle spotter boats with females being too exhausted to lay their eggs a safe distance away from the water’s edge.
However, the good news is that the massive drop in the number of tourists to the area in 2020 has resulted in a significant improvement in the mating and nesting environment. Turtles returned to the area in May of this year to find relative calm and through the summer the absence of activity, including beach furniture and flashing lights and music near the beaches at night, has notably improved nesting activity. The improvements are so dramatic that the WWF in cooperation with the Zakynthos National Marine Park management agency, has bolstered its programme for the protection of turtles in this area.
The long term impact of these improved conditions are still to be seen but this can only be good news for our favourite ocean wanderer!