Turtle nests in Messinia left unprotected

Does the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) have any place in Greece or, despite the fact that it is an endangered species, is it seen more as a nuisance during the summer season?

The issue of whether and how this species is given the protection it merits has come back to the forefront after the corpse of a loggerhead turtle washed up on a beach in Helonaria in the region of Messinia in the Peloponnese earlier this month.

In fact, holidaymakers who saw the body of the hapless turtle lying on the beach spent hours trying to figure out what to do with it before eventually convincing the local municipality — which had no idea of how to deal with the matter even though the area is a nesting ground — to send a cleaning crew to remove the turtle.

The Caretta caretta is mostly associated with the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea and, more specifically, with the Gulf of Lagana, which is the turtle?s biggest nesting ground in the Mediterranean, and where efforts are consistently made to protect the nests from the swarms of holidaymakers that descend there every summer.

However, there are parts of Messinia that are also important nesting sites for the endangered turtle.

Nikos Vallianos, a member of the Archelon sea turtle protection society, told Kathimerini that there are about 1,200 turtle nests on the coast of Zakynthos. ?In the Gulf of Kyparissia [in Messinia] there are around 600 nests, making it the second-most important nesting site in the Mediterranean.

?There are another 40 nests or thereabouts in Koroni and a few more in Petalidi and Helonaria,? the environmentalist added.

Vallianos also said that the complete absence of a protection mechanism for Caretta caretta turtles in the area is best highlighted by the fact that even the simplest regulation issued by the Ministry of the Environment in 2000, forbidding bright lights on nesting beaches, loud noise, such as music, and the passage of vehicles that can destroy nests, is violated on a regular basis.

?This is the period when the hatchlings come out of the nests,? explained Valianos. ?Normally, they head for the sea, following the light of the moon, but artificial lights disorient them and they head toward houses, often getting crushed by cars.?

Adding insult to injury, there is just one sign to be found along the entire coast of Messinia informing beachgoers that there are turtle nests in the area and giving them even the most rudimentary directions about what they should or should not do in order not to disturb the nests. In fact, the very municipality that was called in to remove the corpse of the turtle at Helonaria had organized a party at night on the same beach.