A Decalogue for tourists in Kefalonia

Tourism is a major source of disturbance to sea turtles. But there are many ways to lower your impact as a tourist on Loggerhead sea turtles and still enjoy your holidays.

A Decalogue for Tourists

  1. Take your rubbish away with you
  2. Knock down your sandcastles before you leave
  3. Place beach umbrellas below the high tide line (in the wetter sand)
  4. Let hatchlings find their way to the water before helping them
  5. Do not camp on the beach
  6. Do not drive on the beach
  7. Do not go on the beach at night
  8. Ask your hotel or tour company where they stand about turtles
  9. Always respect nature
  10. Come and visit us! We will be happy to give you all the information about turtles and our work

By respecting these guidelines you will give turtles a better chance in the unfair competition with the development of their nesting habitats.  Read on for more detailed explanations of why each guideline exists.

1) When female Loggerheads crawl up the beach to lay, they become very exposed and are therefore very wary of interference. Crawling into an obstruction such as rubbish or a sandcastle will disturb a female from her nesting. She might return back to the water without laying. If she doesn’t have sufficient time to make another journey into the beach on a following night she will dump the eggs in the sea and all the potential hatchlings will be lost. Furthermore, plastic bags are a serious threat to sea turtles, because they mistake them for jellyfish, a component of their diet, and choke trying to eat them (see picture of volunteers cleaning the beach).

2) Rubbish and sandcastles are also significant hazards for both nesting turtles and emerging hatchlings. Hatchlings emerge from the nest in the cool of the night and use the light of the moon and stars reflected on the sea to find their way to the water. In their rush they don’t recognise obstacles such as litter, embankments of sand castles or trenches. These obstacles will trap or disorient the young hatchling. And they will be prevented from reaching the sea. Less than 1 in a 1000 eggs are thought to produce hatchlings that will survive to reproduction. We can help increase their chances by removing human-caused hazards such as litter and sandcastles.

3) Placing umbrellas, tent pegs, stakes and anchors in the dry sand is very dangerous as it may pierce a nest. Loggerhead turtles only nest in the dry sand between the high tide line and the vegetation at the back of the beach. This prevents the nests from flooding and the eggs from drowning. It also allows the eggs to breathe during gestation. Nests are not marked (nor clearly visible) on Mounda Beach. This is to prevent human interference. If a pointy object hits a nest and pierces even just one egg, bacterial infection will likely destroy the whole nest (see picture above for a correctly placed umbrella).

4) If you are lucky enough to see small hatchlings on the beach please don’t help them into the water, unless they are far from the sea and going in the wrong direction. Newborn turtles need some warming-up before entering the sea. Crawling to the sea is a very delicate and important phase in which they develop and stretch their muscles before starting to swim in their natural life habitat. If you see hatchlings in the day, which is a very rare event, the best you can do for them is to shade them from the sun on their way to the sea. You might also help them by smoothing a path direct to the sea (see picture above). Resist the temptation to touch them, because you might interfere with the fundamental imprinting process in the first hours of their life.

5)+6) Illegal Activities:

Camping is illegal on the beach and in the car parks. Lights and noise from camping activity scares away nervous nesting turtles and severely disorientates young hatchlings.
Driving vehicles on the beach is not only illegal, but it also compresses the loose sand on top of the nests. This suffocates the nest and makes it difficult for any live hatchlings to crawl out. (see picture right)
Please give the turtles a chance: don’t camp or drive on the beach!

7) Adult turtles come on the beach to lay their nests at night and they are very sensitive to any human disturbance, such as noise and light. Even just human presence on the beach may prevent the turtles from coming out of the water on the beach to nest, resulting in a potential nest loss. Only specifically trained personnel, such as our members and volunteers, can patrol the beach at night for research purpose.

8) Hotel lights and noise are a very famous problem for nesting sea turtles. Nesting turtles are scared away by bright lights, and hatchlings are disorientated. They take hotel lights for sea reflected starlight! (see picture right). Sunbeds and umbrellas on the beach at night sometimes become obstacles that send turtles back to the sea without nesting. What you can do is to talk to your hotel owner and/or tour company representative, and ask them what they do in respect to this problem. This is the best way to make them understand how important the issue is, because they can’t close their ears for customers.

 

9) The island of Kefalonia is a natural habitat to many plant and animal species, not only the marine turtle Caretta caretta. There are some endemic species and many protected areas on the island. Mount Aenos and its endemic Cephalonian fir tree are among them. We ask you to be always respectful of the natural environment where we all live.

10) Come and visit us! You will be very welcome and we will be happy to tell you all you want to know about Loggerhead sea turtles and our activities. We have an Environmental Centre (see picture right) on the Argostoli – Skala road, where you will find lots of information not only about sea turtles but also about the local vegetation, wild flowers, Kefalonian endemic species, and more.

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