Cyprus’s endangered green sea turtles #WorldTurtleDay
For over three decades, green sea turtles have been a threatened species throughout the world, particularly in the Mediterranean where dwindling numbers are at critical levels.To help share awareness and support for the protection of green sea turtles in the Mediterranean, Sailing Millie Home spoke with Andreas Evlavis, administrative officer for the Cyprus Greens Party in Paphos about the issue, and what we can do to help.
A critically endangered species in the Mediterranean
Green sea turtles are amongst the largest of all sea turtles and, at maturity, are the only herbivore in the sea turtle family. Named after their green-tinged body, they can be found in tropical and subtropical Mediterranean waters, and including Cyprus and Turkey’s coastlines. Despite global efforts to protect them, green sea turtles numbers are still decreasing, largely due to being killed by human activities, accidental or not. Now listed as critically endangered, Cyprus has been leading the way in the conservation effort, with two management and protection sites, Lara Bay Conservation Station and Episkopi Turtle Watch.
“The project in Lara Bay is probably the most famous in Cyprus. When the turtles come during the night we follow them, find their nests and protect them by making a visible ring in the sand.”
These conservation efforts across Cyprus are having a positive effect but more volunteers are needed to help ensure this continues. And you can understand why when you realise that there are close to a thousand nesting sites across Cyprus alone, according to Andreas.
But it’s not just about how cute these hippy swimming reptiles are, green sea turtles are vital to the wider ecosystem. Constantly recycling nutrients as they graze on the seagrass, they provide a much needed substance that feeds all sorts of other sea creatures. It’s this circle of life that we are so dependant on, and understanding how important these green little guys are to the wider ecosystem can help restore the balance we need in our oceans.
Threats and what you can do to help
Turtles are fighting a number of growing threats to both their nesting havens along the coast and their life out at sea. Andreas says that only one in a thousand green sea turtles will survive to full maturity because of illegal trading, coastal development and fisheries affecting their survival rate.
Coastal development is a key issue to sea turtles, who are dependant on sandy beaches for nesting. The rise in unregulated coastal development has forced the turtles away from their long-standing birthing grounds. Furthermore, when the hatchlings finally crawl out from beneath the sands, the fluorescent lights from the nearby urban cities confuse the baby turtles into thinking they’re heading towards a sun or a moon above an ocean.
“The turtles follow the light when they’re born. As the turtles hatch, they follow the sun. They come up together and follow the light to the sea. But if there are lights behind, they will go towards them and disappear – they can’t survive.”
The continuous efforts from conservation groups and volunteers have become essential in supporting the monitoring of the green sea turtles’ migration patterns. By understanding these routes, the amount of protected and sustainable coastal areas for nestings can be increased, ensuring a higher chance of survival for the hatchlings.
According to World WildLife, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles are accidentally caught in trawl nets, hooks and gillnets, worldwide, each year. And unlike fish who can often survive being caught, when sea turtles are restricted from coming to the surface to breathe, it results in them suffocating whilst tangled in the nets.
“Sometimes the fishermen don’t follow the rules and the sea turtles are caught in the nets.”
As fishing activities continue to develop and expand, sea turtles are increasingly under threat. Commercial fisheries require monitoring and the enforcement of conservation legislation. By using turtle-friendly fishing hooks and alternative devices to netting, fisheries can help prevent the accidental entrapment that kills so many of this endangered species.
Green sea turtles, in particular, face worldwide exploitation for human consumption. Sadly, trade industries still see green sea turtles as a profitable market. Illegal trade can be combatted with education and enforcement in local communities, but a proactive attitude needs to develop for this to have widespread benefits.
Sadly, though, the majority of all green sea turtle threats are from us – but the good news is, we can help change that.
Celebrating green sea turtles and their protection
Essential to helping fight the lack of care taken in the ocean is the mindset that people have about preservation and protection. Andreas says that although we have come a long way in changing people’s perception of environmental awareness, there are still some Cypriots that don’t practice eco-awareness. Together, we can help make a difference. Spread the love and help make people aware of this issue and the importance to us all of this beautiful endangered creature, the green sea turtle.