Loggerhead history on the island of Zakynthos is tremendous; these Sea Turtles have been on earth for 250 million years and are contemporaries of the earliest dinosaurs. All species of sea turtle, including the Loggerhead, are currently on the endangered species list.
Every summer hundreds of Loggerhead turtles return to Zakynthos to mate and lay their eggs on the beaches in Laganas Bay. There are six nesting beaches in the Bay of Laganas: Gerakas, Daphni, Sekania, Kalamaki, East Laganas and a small beach on the islet of Marathonisi, also called turtle island; totalling 5,5 km in length. Sekania beach was purchased by WWF in 1997 and is the only beach on the island that is closed off to the public.
Zakynthos is the most important nesting ground for Caretta caretta turtles in all of Europe. 80% of the Mediterranean population return each summer to lay their eggs on the beaches in the south of the island. Loggerhead females lay their eggs on the same beach where they hatched, up to thirty years previously. Because of this habit of returning to the beach where they were born, if the species dies out the island, it will not be repopulated by turtles from other areas in the Mediterranean. With more and more threats from tourism affecting the Loggerhead’s marine and coastal habitat on the island, it is crucial that we work to save their home and existence.
Due to the importance of Zakynthos as a reproduction area for the Loggerhead sea turtle, protective measures have been introduced since 1984. The purpose of the legislation is to control and regulate development as well as maintaining the quality of the nesting beaches. Tourism development is not prohibited behind nesting beaches, artificial light is prohibited on nesting beaches, vehicle use is not allowed on the beaches and the number of visitors and sunbeds is to be limited in nesting season with strict curfews in place between 7pm-7am (19.00-7.00) to allow the sea turtles to nest.
1988: Marine Zones were established in Laganas bay. Speed limits are enforced, fishing is banned and speed boats are prohibited.
1994: Night flights were prohibited as the take off and landing of aircraft disturb nesting sea turtles.
2006: We successfully lobbied the Government and the National Marine Park of Zakynthos to ban tourists hacking away at the unique, mineral-rich clay cliffs found at Gerakas. It had become popular for visitors to carve out huge amounts of these natural deposits using them in self-administered ‘spa’ treatments. This practice was causing irreparable damage, speeding up decades of natural erosion and degradation to the cliffs, with huge rock falls that posed a serious risk of injury or death to tourists as well as damaging the sea turtle nesting beaches.
Sea turtle spotting boats are popular on the island and are required to remain 15 meters away from the animal, are only allowed to stay for 15 minutes, over crowding the animal is to be avoided, speed limit of 2 knots is enforced and no physical contact with the animal is allowed.
Unfortunately, all this legislation is poorly enforced. Illegal umbrellas, sunbeds and buildings continue to occupy nesting beaches. Sea turtle spotting boats don’t always follow the rules leaving sea turtles stressed, exhausted and often causing serious injuries that can be fatal. Flights still arrive during the evening when it is dark, contributing to both noise and light pollution. We have however managed to prevent a large hotel development on nesting beaches and Marathonissi islet, and Gerakas Beach remains completely undeveloped.
Earth, Sea & Sky Global continue to run a Volunteer Programme in Gerakas – offering people the chance to take a holiday in Greece while contributing to the future of the Caretta Caretta turtles at the same time. Our wonderful volunteers help to educate the public, clean the beaches, monitor the hatchlings and much much more. Please consider volunteering with us – every person helps us to make the Caretta Caretta’s future a little brighter.