Caretta Caretta Turtles, otherwise known as loggerhead turtles, are the second largest turtle species in the world and are currently endangered. So we are very lucky to have the opportunity to volunteer to help protect them through the crucial period of their nesting and birth. We’re currently working for a local volunteer initiative in Cirali, Turkey who protect the Caretta turtles that use the beach for nesting. This can be particularly difficult due to the increasing tourism that come to this sceanic, majestic beach surrounded by mountains and crystal clear Mediterranean sea.
The initiative has run for the past 15 years thanks to the voluntary efforts of local residents Bayram, Mustafa and Ismail, who have the knowledge of how to protect the turtles. Two others, Dom and Silva help find volunteers like ourselves.
About the Caretta Caretta turtle
The loggerhead sea turtle is found around the world in various seas and oceans. There is an estimated 20 nesting sites along the coastlines of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. An iron compound in their brains called “magnetite” allows them to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field; this enables their navigation. For most of their lives, 85% of their day, the turtles are submerged in saltwater – only the females come ashore to lay the eggs.
Females lay eggs every 2 or 3 years, producing an average of 4 nests in their reproductive year. They always come back to the beach where they were born themselves. In the Northern Hemisphere nesting season lasts from May to August. During this period females come ashore at night to dig an “egg chamber” in the sand and deposit their eggs which they then cover and leave. The eggs are the size of a golf ball and each nest contains about 100 eggs. Unfortunately the mortality rate for baby turtles is high, therefore the high number of eggs are crucial.
Nesting areas are carefully selected by the mothers, as their location affects the hatchlings’ fitness, emergence ratio and vulnerability to predators. In particular, temperature affects the sex of the baby turtles. Incubation temperature of about 28C produces males whereas 32C leads to female hatchlings.
When babys hatch, they dig their way to surface of the sand. They generally measure around 5cm and weigh around 20 grams. In general they come out at sunrise or at night when the temperature is low and when preditors such as birds and crabs are less active. The hatchlings follow the reflection of the moon or the sunrise on the water to find their way to sea. The journey from the nest to the sea builds their strength for their coming swim. Unfortunately the nest can be too far, or the turtles may be too premature and weak, increasing the risk of dehydration, exhaustion or preditor attacks. In which case volunteers like ourselves can intervene and keep the baby turtles in damp, warm containtors, and we can release at a later date when they are strong enough to continue their journey.
Below is a photo of a two premature turtles which we successfully nursed and released to sea. We conveniently named them John and Kirsty. You can also see a video of one making their final journey on our youtube channel.
Currently there are other, arguably more dangerous, threats to their lives; humans. The rising tourism in Cirali and the extensive use of the beach is interfering with the Caretta’s natural habitat.
Our job is to also ensure tourists and locals are well informed of the damage they can cause and to behave in a manner which does not interfere with the nesting ritual. Things such as flash photography, torches and lights from the nearby cafés and bars may disoriente the baby turtles and prevent them from making it to the sea. Equally, walking along the beach at night increases the risk of stepping on baby turtles who are making their important journey.
Although we advise people not to behave in this way, sadly not everyone complies or supports the cause. This is the biggest challenge for the Caretta Caretta initiative.