Protecting the Mediterranean’s turtles from plastic and litter

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Turtle hatchling scampers across the beach to the sea

The Karpaz Peninsula that juts out north-east of the island of Cyprus is an important breeding ground for green sea turtles and loggerhead turtles. It is an area which is being developed for residential housing which will make things worse for these turtles. There is an army of volunteers who painstakingly ensure that the tiny newborn turtles can successfully get to the sea after birth. The volunteers are needed because the journey from their birth nest to the sea is littered with plastic and other obstacles which present a barrier to them.

Turtle hatchling scampers across the beach to the sea

Turtle hatchling scampers across the beach to the sea. Photo: Direct Traveller and presumed to be in the public domain.

While they are travelling after birth they survive on the yoke of their egg which last about three days. If as happened to one tiny turtle they are stopped, they die. The turtle that I’m referring to went into a plastic cup which had been buried under the sand. Turtles cannot go into reverse and therefore it died. Other turtles have met similar fates from other litter fragments such as medicine containers and bottle tops.

The volunteers are with the Society for the Protection of Turtles. They are a local project which monitors the turtle population and organises beach cleanups to remove those damnable obstacles. Every day of the turtles’ nesting season from May to October the team from this organisation clean up the beaches on the Karpaz Peninsula looking for signs of turtle nests.

When they find one they place a metal grid over it to protect it from dogs and beach umbrellas. They also erect signs warning people. When the eggs hatch the volunteers return to make sure that the tiny newborn turtles can get out from under the sand and into the sea. They start at 5 am looking for turtle tracks which tell them about the journeys of the successful ones as they head to the sea. It can take two hours to dig a metre down into the sand to locate a hatched nest.

They’ve been doing this for 30 years and it is paying off. Turtle numbers are increasing. The problem is that so too is plastic and other dangers. The Karpaz Peninsula is protected but as mentioned the authorities have approved developments. The Peninsula is largely unspoiled so developments will be big negative to the survival of the turtles. There are plans to build a marina for heavy boats and scores of new villas and are signs along the coastal road advertising land for sale.

Turtles are stressed by people or light on the beaches. When they’re stressed they don’t come and lay their eggs and if they lose these breeding grounds volunteers don’t know where they will go to find new ones. Ms Buba, one of the volunteers, is writing a thesis on the plastic which presents a major hazard to these turtles.