Turtles in turf war

• Category: News

Commercialization has reared its ugly head once again at Zakynthos, and this time, bearing the brunt of it are the Caretta Caretta turtles, or Loggerhead turtles, as they are more popularly known. The Loggerhead turtles are an endangered species and require immense consideration while they are nesting, as any form of noise, light or even human contact scares them. Being the most important nesting ground in the Mediterranean, Zakynthos has become the battleground between the growing tourism industry and the turtles and it seems to be a losing battle for the turtles.

The specific beaches that the female turtles return to lay eggs in each year are Laganas, Kalamaki, Daphne, Pelouzo, Gerakas, Sekania and Marathonisi. In 1999, a National Marine Park was set up in Laganas Bay, in a bid to tackle the threat to these turtles, but has by and large been an unsuccessful endeavor. With many complaints about the lack of concern shown by the park officials, as well poor enforcement of conservation methods, the National Marine Park was faced with immense local hostility. Various workshops were held by Euronatur in 2001 and 2002, so as to turn around the negativity from the locals, and were partly a success. The main reason for the failure of the park was the lack of the required aid by the Greek government, with situations such as funds for 2003 not being paid.

This is just the scene at one of the nesting points, with other areas such as the Daphne beach facing similar, with things have gotten completely out of hand. Despite it being disallowed, many buildings and taverns have been set up along the beach, umbrellas and deckchairs are left in the sand overnight, many tourists drive bikes and even motorbikes over the sand, causing major destruction of eggs and above it all, tourists walk in to protected areas, which have been specified as off limits for humans and destroy the eggs and scare the turtles in to the sea, who then lay the eggs in the water, which destroys them.

An attempt was made to revive the National Marine Park, wherein a new President was appointed and a new boat was brought in to control speed limits, as well as sailing prohibitions, though these efforts seem too little, too late. Sekania beach, bought by WWF to promote the conservation of these turtles is already recording a change in nesting patterns. With the number of turtles nesting at their beach having doubled, WWF is concerned that a dramatic change could ultimately lead to lower survival rates. These turtles travel thousands of miles every year to reproduce, and one female turtle lays approximately 100 to 120 eggs out of which only 10 eggs hatch and only 1 in a 1000 hatchlings actually survive into adulthood. With such low survival rates already associated with the survival of the species, such open violation of conservation rules and efforts is proving to be a deadly threat for Loggerhead turtles.

The Greek government had agreed to compensate landowners in protected areas for not using their property, but no compensation has been made in over a decade. Another effort was made by the government, where they entered into talks with locals about starting an ecotourism center, which would benefit both locals as well as the turtles, but the lack of trust in the government has caused the plan to remain an idea. The lack of co-operation from the government as well as the locals, has led this battle between man and turtle to take a turn for the worst. Tourists are unaware of precautions they have to take, and flout rules openly causing irreparable damage to the turtles. Whether the situation will ever be under control, or will the turtles finally change nesting habits for good and fade into the extinct species list is yet to be seen.