I have been living in Cyprus for just over one year and have finally settled in Polis. I first worked near Epsiskopi village teaching and breaking-in horses at an equestrian centre. I had a wish to do “turtle watch” and made enquiries at Lara Bay. Unfortunately I was not required but I found telephone numbers of contacts in the army WSBA areas, Akrotiri, Episkopi and Pissouri Beach on a Sunday morning, which was very convenient as I ride a Cypriots horse in the evening.
For weeks during the summer, I have been making 100 mile round trip to walk the beach about 6:30 in the mornings before the tourists trample over it. I have been searching for evidence of nests. I found numerous tracks and various holes dug, but no nests. With so many tourist, hotels, restaurants, beach parties so close to the beach front, it’s not very welcoming for turtles. However fiver Loggerheads did make successful nests and on the 1st of August Jim called me to say a nest was ready to hatch. I set off with my sleeping bag, snacks, torch and pen and paper to record the hatchings. Jim had scrapped a channel from the cage over the nest (put there to protect the eggs from foxes, other predators and to show the tourists, so they did not put beach umbrellas into the sand) down to the water’s edge making an easier exit for the tiny hatchlings. I was on watch with another couple, soon tiny turtles were pushing up through the sand, the nest is about one meter deep – so quite a climb. They are air breathing creatures but their lungs are closed until they reach the surface. We let them rest for a while in the cage, then covering a torch with red plastic bag shone the beam on the sand ahead of them, lighting their way to the sea. They scuttled down the channel, soon reaching the water where they disappeared. I was able to hold one briefly – what a wonderful experience!
I hoped this tiny creature would survive and, if female, would return in about 15 years, when mature, to lay eggs on Pissouri Beach. I also hoped the beach would still be there! That night only 7 came out, the following night 39. All the turtles in Pissouri are Loggerheads, the of the species and more common than the Green Turtle. It is estimated in the Mediterranean that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 Loggerheads but only 500- 1000 Green. However both are endangered.
The green lays about 120 eggs, taking up to three hours to dig her nest. Loggerheads lay an average 85 and take one hour. The nest is light-bulb shaped; eggs take between 44- 65 days to incubate, depending on sand warmth. The eggs nearest the top become females, the cooler, deeper eggs, males. They have an incredible desire to reach the sea following the light horizon, not necessarily the moonlight but any other light-buildings, street lights, cars will disorientate them and make them vulnerable to predators , dying of exhaustion, or getting lost.
On August 12th, Jim decided to excavate a nest which had produced hatchlings on the previous two nights. Forty two on the first and twenty one on the next night. The hatchlings at the bottom of the nest will be more tired than the earlier arrivals so may need a helping hand getting out through all the egg remains. At 5pm, in glorious sunshine and with an interested audience of sixty Brits and Cypriots, Jim carefully scraped away a layer of sand – suddenly a tiny grey head, resembling a pebble appeared, then a flipper, and once this one was clear of the chamber exit others soon followed. Jim gently scooped sand away and placed the babies into a sand filled bowl to rest and gives us all a chance to take photos and see these beautiful creatures close up! They were put into the prepared raked exit to the sea, so as not to get lost amongst all those tourists’ feet! They rapidly made their way to the sea. mini versions, beautifully patterned shells angled flippers and big eyes. We released 16 – very satisfying. Sadly three were dead in the bottom of the nest and two died earlier when emerging into the hot sun before we got to them. There were five infertile eggs, but seventy-nine live. We all wished them good luck!
I have been privileged to witness turtle hatchings on a number of occasions now and it is a humbling experience, which joins my other memories of swimming with dolphins, whale watching, holding snakes, a tarantula walking up my arm, and riding many horses worldwide. I am a very fortunate person.
The devastation of the beaches during the recent troubles in Lebanon is so upsetting. All those hatchlings will have died, probably before they ever reached the sea in the oil soaked beaches. That whole coastline may never recover. A tragic loss for the environment due to the stupidity of man. Also the terrible loss of the innocent lives of so many people.
If you would like to offer your help for next year, your services would be appreciated. Call Jim Carroll on 99462308 for advice and more information.
Images of Loggerhead Turtle:
Image:Loggerhead close up.jpg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Picture, Loggerhead Sea Turtle Desktop Wallpaper, Free Wallpapers, Download, Animals – National Geographic
Things that everyone can do!!
Avoid driving on the Beach, especially at night.
Avoid using the Beach at night, especially with fires, torches or luminous mobile phones.
Be a responsible pet owner.
Take care when participating in water sports& keep your distance from Turtles if you see them.
Allways take your litter home.
Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta)
Matures: 15 years
Minimum adult size: 60cm
Number of eggs in a nest: 85
Duration of nest digging: 1 hr
Nesting season: Mid June to end of August
Days to hatch: 44-65
This is the smaller of the two and is so named because it has a relatively large head. An opportunistic feeder whilst an infant, on reaching juvenile size it generally eats meat like crabs, urchins and jellyfish.
Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Matures: 25-30 years
Minimum adult size: 70cm
Number of eggs in a nest: 120
Duration of nest digging: 3 hr
Nesting season: Mid June to end of August
Days to hatch: 44-65
A larger species, this turtle is a little more sensitive to disturbance, more choosy about it’s nest sites and also rarer. During it’s infant stage it eats much the same as the Loggerhead but on reaching juvenile size it changes to a diet of sea-grass and algae.
by Shirley Spratley