SOCIETY

Slow tourism season a boon for endangered turtles on Zakynthos

slow-tourism-season-a-boon-for-endangered-turtles-on-zakynthos

Loggerhead turtles returning to their nesting sites along the Bay of Laganas on the Ionian island of Zakynthos are experiencing a rare period of calm this post-Covid summer in an area that is usually heavily impacted by tourism at the peak of their egg-laying season.

“There is no beach furniture, music or lights – factors that disturb the Caretta caretta – at any of the six main nesting areas,” says Charikleia Minotou, head of the Zakynthos program for the protection of loggerhead turtles run by the Greek chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

During the first two months of the egg-laying season, in May and June Archelon’s researchers and volunteers located 297 nests on Sekania beach, in the heart of the Zakynthos National Marine Park, which is regarded as one of the most important nesting site for the species in the Mediterranean Sea.

Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, has been carrying out monitoring and protection of loggerhead nests on the six beaches of  Laganas bay in Zakynthos since 1983 and has collaborated with the National Marine Park of Zakynthos since its establishment in 1999.

The increase in nesting activity has prompted WWF to bolster its protection program (in cooperation with the Zakynthos National Marine Park management agency and the local fire service) with three instead of two guards ensuring that environmental protection laws are being upheld. They are also tasked with informing visitors and keeping an eye on seagulls, which pose the greatest danger to the eggs and the baby turtles.

“This is an opportunity for the turtles to return at their own pace, to fall in love, mate and give birth on the beaches, as dictated by their biology,” says Minotou. “The long-term impact of the current conditions, however, will only become apparent over time.”

Mature female loggerhead turtles migrate every two or three years and are genetically hardwired to return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs. Their newborns, in turn, will come back to the same exact spot in 20 years’ time to lay their own eggs.

Today in Laganas the sight of a turtle swimming beside you is no longer as rare as it was up until last summer, providing ample proof that coexistence between humans and loggerheads is possible.

The new conditions are not only benefitting the turtles either. “Residents have been participating in a number of volunteer initiatives of an environmental nature, cleaning beaches, green areas and roads, prettifying various spots and embellishing telephone junction boxes,” describes Minotou. “These initiatives are being carried out by already established groups and new ones formed during the lockdown.”

With most residents being employed in tourism and related sectors, they now have time on their hands for other activities. “At the same time, though, there is widespread concern about the future,” says Minotou.

Pandemic aside, there is a growing awareness of the failure of the ‘Laganas model,’ of beach bars and row upon row of loungers and umbrellas heaving with people. This is all the more so now as visitors are avoiding crowds.

Similarly, small hotels and rented apartments are getting the bulk of what business there is so far. “We are waiting with suspense to see how bookings will shape up in the coming weeks, if tourists will visit and what their attitude will be in terms of keeping themselves and the islanders safe,” says Minotou, adding that she hopes these two months will not just end up being a footnote in the story of the loggerhead turtles on the island.