From Mediterranean's biggest nesting ground, turtles swim to uncertain future
Born with grin of uncertainity
Kira Schirrmacher, 22, donning black gloves to gently ease the newborn loggerhead turtle on its way, grins at suggestions that she's a kind of "midwife". "Yes, I do that all day," says the German social sciences student, of her role.
She's one of several volunteers monitoring the beaches of Kyparissia Bay, the Mediterranean's largest nesting ground for the loggerhead, whose scientific name is Caretta caretta.
Population critically low
Even sun loungers on the beach that can snag the turtles and bright lights that lure the hatchlings away from the water at night are potential threats, say environmentalists. Their overall numbers are unknown but some Pacific and Indian Ocean populations are critically low, while conservation measures have bolstered their presence in the Mediterranean, environmental groups say.
20% fail to hatch eggs
"It seems (more of) our female turtles survive and come back to nest," says oceanographer Dimitris Fytilis, head of the organisation's rescue centre for injured turtles in the coastal Athens suburb, Glyfada. Each nest contains up to 120 eggs but up to a fifth may fail to hatch at all.
Loggerheads can live to 80 years of age, grow to more than half a metre (20 inches) and weigh up to 80 kilos (175 pounds) but face mortal danger from birth. Newborns must evade dogs, jackals, foxes, seagulls and other predators just to make it to the sea.
Once in the water, the five-centimetre turtle will swim non-stop for at least 24 hours to work its lungs and find food but is prey to crabs, fish and even adult turtles.
Cons of human intervention
The turtles ingest fishhooks and plastic debris but more than half of their injuries are caused by humans, usually by blows to the head with oars and axes. Fishermen are often blamed as repairing fishing nets damaged by turtles can be costly.
Global actions for rescue
Another key nesting ground at Laganas Bay, in Zakynthos on the Ionian island of Zante, attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually. Like in other popular tourist destinations, environmental groups have for decades tussled with hotels and restaurants that chafe against protection efforts. "We don't really get support from the locals," says Schirrmacher, in Kyparissia. But one hotelier in the resort suggests the area should develop its turtle tourism.
"There should be a glass-bottomed boat for turtle watching, but the authorities here can't even build a proper road to the beach," he fumes. Adding to ecologists' concerns are moves by Greece's new conservative government to relax environmental restrictions to promote further tourism investment. Plans to expand energy prospecting in the Ionian Sea and near Crete have also sparked anger.