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Cyprus leads the way in turtle boom
AFTER DECADES of fearing the ultimate demise of the island’s turtle population, between 30,000 and 40,000 will hatch this year from some 800 nests, a testament to the success of a protection and conservation project started 34 years ago.
Between 1978, when the programme started, and 2006, experts had been recording a steady number of 300 nests a year. But the years following 2006 saw a boom in births on the protected beaches of Cyprus – the only country in the Mediterranean to record this type of rise in numbers.
“We consider this increase the result of the programme to protect sea turtles in Cyprus,” said the project’s head Myroulla Hadjichristoforou. The caretta-caretta, or loggerhead turtle takes around 20 years to mature while the green turtle needs 30.
The newborn turtles intuitively record the coordinates of the beach where they are born and return there after maturity to lay their own eggs, Hadjichristoforou told the Cyprus News Agency.
Hadjichristoforou had started the programme, the Cyprus Turtle Conservation Project – the first of its kind in the Mediterranean – along with former Fisheries Director Andreas Demetropoulos.
The programme, which is under the fisheries department, focuses on the protected areas of Lara-Toxeftra and Polis-Yialia on the island’s western coast.
The first covers a stretch of coastline 10 km long, and the Polis–Yialia region is 13 km long and is part of the NATURA 2000 plan
Apart from the protected areas, the project also covers other places where turtles nest. The legislative framework aims at preventing human interference with the breeding activity, both during nesting and during the incubation period of the eggs, when the reproduction period ends.
The turtles lay their eggs around the end of May and during this time the hatching begins and will be completed around the end of September.
The main provisions of the project include protecting and managing turtle nesting beaches, protecting eggs and hatchlings from predation - and human activities, protecting adult turtles, monitoring the turtle population and nesting activity in Cyprus and raising public awareness in turtle conservation.
Hadjichristoforou said not all beaches can be declared protected but the state must protect nests wherever they are. She said turtles also used to lay their eggs in Ayia Napa but the tourist and construction activity drove them away.
When the programme started 34 years ago, 80 per cent of the nests had been destroyed by foxes. Today, the project has succeeded in saving almost all of the nests.
“If back in the day 5,000 newborn turtles managed to get to the sea, today we send 50,000,” Hadjichristoforou said.
She expects the number of nests this year to reach 800 with between 30,000 and 40,000 hatchlings making their way to the water – a journey sometimes fraught with danger.
Beyond the natural predators that could be lurking in the dark, umbrellas, sunbeds, sand castles and holes can all prove deadly. Car lights, fires and loud noises can also disorient the hatchlings who on instinct head for the light reflections over the water. Lights shining inland could make them head in the wrong direction to certain death.
As part of the project, when the turtles lay their eggs in sand, the eggs remain in the same spot without being moved and special protective nets are placed on top of them.
Since 1989, Cyprus has had the strictest legislation in the Mediterranean but its implementation is is lagging somewhat due to lack of staff. People are advised not to approach turtle beaches with their vehicles, start fires along the sand or dig holes to make castles as these pose fatal danger for hatchlings. People are also advised to avoid loud noises and bright lights along the protected beaches.
The Fisheries Department is also operating a turtle rescue centre at Meneou village for injured or sick turtles, in its effort to further protect the species.