Turtle (Caretta caretta)

Of the marine turtles, two, the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) breed regularly on the island’s beaches. Both have evidently been more abundant in the past. Though records are sparse, old fishermen support this and so does the toponomy of at least one area, Chelones. This is a fisherman’s cove in the Karpass adjoining an area of extensive sandy beaches stretching to Cape Andreas. Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are also occasionally found off the west coast of Cyprus. However no nesting activity of this species has been noted in Cyprus or in the Mediterranean.

Exploitation of turtles in the Mediterranean, from the beginning until about the middle of this century has decimated turtle populations. Very large numbers of turtles were shipped from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe where there was a large demand for turtle soup. Man’s encroachment on turtle nesting habitats in the Mediterranean is now threatening turtles in this sea. The intensive use of beaches, for tourism and recreational purposes, deprives them of their nesting grounds. Some turtles drown or are killed when caught in fishermen’s nets or on long-lines. Turtles and especially the Green turtles are, as a result, on the verge of extinction in the Mediterranean.

Both the Green and the Loggerhead turtles have been declared by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (I.U.C.N.) as endangered. Both species are protected under the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention). An Action Plan for their conservation has also been approved by Mediterranean States within UNEP’s Mediterranean Action Plan (Barcelona Convention).

In 1976 a project was conceived how to help the Marine turtles of Cyprus. Two years later, in 1978, the project was launched by the Fisheries Department. It includes a seasonal station and a hatchery at Lara. The Cyprus Government finances the project. Late in 1980, it received World Wildlife Fund support, as an International Union for the Conservation of Nature/World Wildlife Fund Project, for three years. It is currently receiving assistance from the E.U. as a MEDSPA Project. In 1976 and 1977, a thorough survey of the turtle breeding beaches was undertaken. It showed that Green turtles were breeding on several beaches, including those in the Ayia Napa area and the unspoilt surf-swept west coast beaches north of Pafos. Surveys on turtle nesting undertaken since then confirm these initial observations. However, nesting on the Ayia Napa beaches and on the beaches between Maa and Pafos has ceased because of the intensive use of these beaches for tourism, recreation etc. Loggerhead turtles nest on most beaches that provide some privacy at night and the odd turtle will occasionally nest on some tourist beaches (often with disastrous results for the eggs and hatchlings).Turtles are an ancient group of reptiles that, like the marine mammals such as dolphins, seals and whales, have “reversed” their evolution and returned to the sea. This reverse process is however, incomplete and though turtles have adapted well to life in the sea – they are excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for long periods – their ties to their land adapted ancestors are unmistakable.Turtles still have to breathe air and they have to come up on land to lay their eggs.

Turtles do not lay every year. In Cyprus they lay every 2-4 years from the beginning of June until the middle of August. During the breeding season they lay 3-5 times, every two weeks. Each clutch, of about 100 eggs, is layed 50-70 cm deep, in a hole dug in the sand in the quiet of the night. The hatchlings emerge from the sand at night, about seven weeks later, and head directly and infallibly towards the sea. Their instinctive location of the sea is based on their attraction to the light reflected off the sea. This instinct, however, may well be the downfall of the turtles. Hatchlings are attracted to the brightest light near the breeding beach – be it a hotel or a cafe – hence the need to avoid any such development near the breeding beaches. Female turtles are shy, and lights and movement at night will affect their laying. If the female turtle is unable to find a suitable beach and retains her eggs too long, they will be disposed of into the sea to perish.

On surveys undertaken on the extensive beaches east of Polis, more than 80% of the nests were found dug up and eaten by foxes, which patrol most beaches during the nesting season. Once the hatchlings reach the sea new enemies face them there. Many nests also perish by being covered by waves. For thousands of years, however, sufficient numbers of hatchlings reached the sea and survived to keep a stable population.

In view of the turtles’ demise active conservation measures were initiated in Cyprus with the Lara Turtle Conservation Project.

The main thrust of the project aims at:
- Protecting the remaining turtle nesting beaches.
- Protecting eggs and hatchlings from predation.
- Monitoring the turtle population.

At the Lara station nests are collected and transferred to the hatchery, which is a fenced off part of the beach, where they are reburied and protected from foxes. The eggs are buried at the right depth as sex determination in turtles is dependent on the incubation temperature. Incubation at 29-30 degrees C results in half the hatchlings being male and the other half female. Low temperatures result in male hatchlings. Higher temperatures than normal produce females.

Turtle nests can now be identified, almost with certainty as those of the Green or Loggerhead turtles and Fisheries Department staff have become familiar with turtle breeding behaviour and reactions. Hatching success improved with better handling techniques, which were developed over the years, to achieve an 80% success rate. This, however, is still a little lower than that of protected undisturbed nests, which is about 80-90%.

Green turtle hatching
At several of the Lara beaches all nests that can be protected in situ, by cages, are left undisturbed where they were made by the turtles, i.e. they are not transferred to the hatchery.

At the beginning of the Lara Turtle Project there was an estimated breeding population of about 100 Green turtles breeding in the Lara-Toxeftra area mainly. The Loggerhead population is apparently somewhat larger and nests on other beaches also, in Chrysochou Bay in particular.

The Lara Turtle Project is the first and still the only one of its kind in the Mediterranean.

Through the project over 6,000 hatchlings are now released every year. This is about 3-4 times the number that would normally reach the sea if the nests were not protected. Female turtles are tagged and their reappearance on the nesting beaches is monitored.

Though the time required for turtles to reach maturity is still uncertain, it is expected that 15-30 years or so after hatching the turtles that survive will find their way back to the same beaches to lay their own eggs. The imprinting mechanism, through which they know on which beach they were born, is still being studied. Therefore, all precautions are taken to disturb as little as possible the hatchlings’ incubation and first descent to the sea.

Raising turtles to larger sizes and releasing them is also being researched into. About 100 turtles ranging from one to ten years old are being kept in sea cages, in Pafos harbour and in special tanks in Nicosia, for this purpose. About 100 have already been released at various ages. Releasing such turtles may cut down on mortality at sea as they will be too large to be eaten by most predators.

In Cyprus, turtles and their eggs have been protected since 1971 by law, along with dolphins and seals, (Regulations made under the Fisheries Law). In 1989 the Lara-Toxeftra coastal region was declared a protected area, under the same law and is managed as such by the Fisheries Department. It covers a stretch of coastline 10 kms long, from the location known as Aspros, near Ayios Georghios, to Argaki tou Yousouphi, about three kilometres north of Lara. This includes the five main beaches from Toxeftra to the north Lara Bays. The management measures aim at avoiding human interference with the breeding activity, both during nesting and during the incubation period of the eggs. The north Lara beaches are within the Akamas Main State Forest and they are leased by the Department of Fisheries.

Without habitat protection the long-term prospects for the survival of the turtles in Cyprus, irrespective of the success of the project in increasing the recruitment of young turtles into the population, are, at best, doubtful. The survival of the turtles that breed on Cyprus’ beaches is more than of a local interest, as the turtles that breed here form the remnants of a once bigger population that used to breed in other east Mediterranean countries also. Currently the Mediterranean Green Turtle breeds mainly on Cyprus’ beaches and on one or two beaches in Turkey. Its breeding activity in other neighbouring countries has ceased completely.

Every year since 1989 the Fisheries Department has been holding training courses in hatchery techniques and beach management for Mediterranean scientists at the Lara Station. The United Nations Environment Programme (Mediterranean Action Plan) sponsors trainees to these courses.

Cyprus weather Blog ,

Comments are closed.

Cyprus Weather

Cyprus is the warmest island in the Mediterranean. The mean daily temperature in July and August ranges between 29°C on the central plain to 22°C on the Troodos mountains, while the average maximum temperature for these months ranges between 36°C and 27°C respectively. Winters are mild. The island, on average, enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine every year, and the rainy season is confined to the period between November and March. Snow occurs rarely in the lowland and on the northern range of Keryneia but falls every winter on ground above 1.000 metres on the Troodos Range, usually occurring by the first week in December and ending by the middle of April.

Latest News