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Glimmer of hope for Greece’s Loggerhead turtles

07/01/2013 16:45:55

Just 500 Loggerhead turtle nests succesfully hatched any young in 2012 in Greece.

Turtle rescue centre ready for action

A new £250,000 rescue centre for injured sea turtles, funded by donations from UK aquarium visitors, was completed over Christmas on the Greek island of Zakynthos. Sea Life Centres across the UK have been fundraising for the centre for the last six years.

The Ionian island of Zakynthos, a popular destination for British holidaymakers, hosts the biggest concentration of Loggerhead sea turtle nests in the Mediterranean, as many as 2,000 in peak summers.

Just 811 nests in 2012
"The tourism boom has had a devastating effect on the nesting beaches and numbers are in decline. Only 811 nests were recorded in 2012, one of the lowest ever tallies, and only 500 nests actually hatched any eggs, mainly because of bad weather, but a few were also damaged by humans." said Sea Life's head marine biologist Rob Hicks.

"Every adult loggerhead of breeding age is becoming more and more vital to the long-term survival prospects of Mediterranean loggerheads. Until now though, any adult turtle injured by fishing gear or pleasure craft has had to travel to Athens for treatment and care, a journey of more than eight hours," Rob added.

Sea Life's re-homing of a brain-damaged loggerhead turtle Antiopi from Athens to Scarborough Sea Life Centre more than six years ago was the catalyst for the rescue centre project. Antiopi, whose head injury could have been caused by a boat propeller or a fisherman's gaffe hook, has become a symbol of hope for her species, one of seven endangered sea turtle species worldwide.

Turtle rescue centre
The main structure of the new Centre, its tanks and information areas were completed last summer, and the addition of a saltwater reservoir tank and additional quarantine tanks over the festive period mean it can take in casualties from this coming spring. Located adjacent to one of the least disrupted beaches at Gerakas in the south of the island, it was built by Zakynthos-based wildlife group Earth, Sea & Sky...who will run it with volunteer help.

Founder Yannis Vardakastanis said it had already become a popular visitor centre and was helping educate holidaymakers to avoid adding to the turtles' problems.

More than 50% nesting beaches have been lost
"The situation here is very serious," said Yannis. "More than half the original nesting sands have been lost or made unusable through seafront development. Disturbance on some of the beaches that were traditionally the prime nesting locations is such that nest numbers have fallen sharply, and those few that are made risk being compacted so that hatchlings can't fight their way to the surface.

Pleasure boats hassling turtles
"Pleasure boats offer money-back if passengers do not see a turtle, with the result that any turtle surfacing to breathe is harried by several boats at once, and regulations designed to keep them a safe distance away with engines stopped and noise kept down are just ignored.

"Without concerted action from every wildlife organisation involved, with the wholehearted backing and support of the tourism industry, Zakynthos could lose its turtle population within ten years."

Yannis hopes the new rescue and information centre will help turn the tide.

The new facility will continue to be funded by the Sea Life network, and displays staff from many of the eleven UK centres will carry out volunteer work there as well as help monitor and protect nests.

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