Caretta Carreta Loggerhead Turtle - Zakynthos Zante Ecology
Caretta Caretta Loggerhead Turtle - Zante Vacation - Zakynthos Island Greece
The Caretta Caretta turtle or Loggerhead turtle is so called for its distinctive large head which distinguishes it from other turtles. The loggerhead turtle is the largest hard shelled turtle in the world measuring on average around 120 cm and weighing over 100 kg. Their outer-shell is reddish- brown in colour and their underneath is yellow. Caretta Caretta turtles are found in the waters of the Ionian Sea - nesting in particular on the beaches of Zakynthos.
The loggerhead turtles lay their eggs at the same beach where they themselves were born, which is why the protection of the beaches that they nest at is of environmental significance to ensure that the nests successfully hatch, as the numbers of Caretta Caretta turtles are in decline and they have been placed on the Endangered species list.
Caretta Caretta turtles are one of the oldest species in the world; sea turtles are known to date from at least 130 million years ago and some fossils may even date from 200 million years ago. Early sea turtles were alive at the same time as the dinosaurs, although the present 8 species of sea turtles alive today have changed significantly since the time of the dinosaurs and date from only up to 60 million years ago.
Sea turtles are adapted for their life in the ocean, with streamlined shells and strong flippers designed so they can swim easily. The turtles eat shellfish, clams, muscles and jellyfish. They do not have teeth but have powerful jaws that can crush their food. It is thought that the turtles can live to be about 60 years old, and they reach reproductive maturity at 30 years old where the females return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs (only 1 in a 1,000 turtles manage to reach reproductive age). It is unknown what happens to the turtles from when they are born until they return to their home beach to nest their eggs and these years are known as "the lost years". This also means that very little is known about male turtles (as they never leave the sea) and it is only the nesting female turtles that have been tagged to gather information about their migration routes. Loggerhead turtles make the longest migration journeys of any sea turtles. The turtles can lay up to two hundred eggs and can repeat this process 15 days later - up to three or four times in one season (June- August). The eggs need to be covered in the sand for about two months before they are ready to hatch. The turtles once hatched dig their way out of the sand, by the turtles lower down in the nest pushing the turtles above them out of the nest - they all then race to the sea. The turtles are normally hatched in the night and it is crucial that their path to the sea is unblocked by sandcastles or other obstacles on the beach - as the turtles are better suited to water rather than land.
The survival of the sea turtles depends on the specific beaches where the females lay their eggs. Most of the turtle beaches around the world have been destroyed or commercialised resulting in turtles not returning to these beaches. The beaches on Zakynthos, specifically in Lagana bay are tremendously important in the fight to save the turtles - as these beaches have the highest concentration of turtle nesting sites in the Mediterranean - with almost 1,500 nests on only 5 km of beaches. 900 turtles come to lay their eggs on the beaches in Zante.
As the beaches on Zakynthos are so important for the turtles survival, in 1999 a National Marine Park (NMPZ) was established, this was the first marine park in Greece. The purpose of the NMPZ is to protect the flora and fauna on the island and ensure that habitats of wildlife are protected. They work tirelessly to educate tourists and the public about the wildlife in the area and in particular the Caretta Caretta turtles and they patrol beaches to ensure that the turtle nests remain protected and undamaged so the turtles have the best chance to hatch. With public co-operation it will be possible for turtles and humans to harmoniously share beaches.
Top tips to help save the turtles
- Take your rubbish home with you - do not leave it on the beach! Plastic bags, balloons and other litter can be mistaken by the turtles as food and once they have eaten it, it can cause them to suffocate or be poisoned (not a nice way for the turtle to die).
- Be careful where you place beach umbrellas - check that you are not putting them on a turtle nest and put them down at night.
- Kick down your sandcastles as you leave as they can prove a huge obstacle to the baby turtles struggling to find the sea. Just think - knocking sandcastles down can almost be as much fun as making them!
- Try not to take pets on beaches where you know there are turtles-as they can disturb the nests. However if it is unavoidable keep dogs on a leash.
- Do not drive or park on the beach - as this can crush nests and turtles. Also respect that watersports are restricted on many beaches.
- Do not go on the beaches at night as your presence and noise can disrupt nesting turtles who may give up their attempt at laying their eggs, instead heading back to the sea.
- If you are staying in accommodation near a beach where turtles nest, make sure your curtains / blinds are drawn at night so that the turtles do not get confused by the bright lights - as they follow the light of the moon to find their way back to sea.
- DO NOT help hatchlings into the water, even if they appear to be struggling. They have to flex and stretch their muscles before they can swim - and the stress of being picked up or prodded by humans can prove too much for the baby turtles.
- Learn as much as you can about the turtles and visit the Wildlife Centre at Gerakas beach. Tell your friends about the beautiful Caretta Caretta turtles and their plight.
- If you see a turtle swimming in the waters off the coast of Zakynthos, enjoy the moment and delight in the fact that you are glimpsing such an ancient species, swimming in the clear calm waters - ignorant to the fact that it faces extinction thanks to human intervention.
Visit the National Marine Park official website