Caretta Caretta Turtles

While you are on holiday in Zante you will have the opportunity to learn more about the Caretta Caretta Turtles and you can even partake in a Turtle spotting trip to see them swimming in their natural habitat.

The Bay of Laganas, located on the South West coast of Zante Zakynthos, Zante in the Greek Islands is considered to be the largest nesting ground in the Mediterranean for the Caretta Caretta loggerhead sea turtle.

  • Caretta Caretta turtles in Zante are commonly called the "loggerhead" sea turtles due to their large heads with a horny beak that is thicker than other sea turtles. Caretta Caretta turtles in Zakynthos are the largest hard-shelled turtle in the world.
  • Caretta Caretta loggerhead sea turtles are the world's most-studied and well-known sea-turtle. An adult loggerhead turtles weigh between 77 and 160 kg, and measures between 31 to 45 inches long. Their shell is a golden brown colour, with skin tones from yellow to brown.
  • The Caretta Caretta has become an endangered species, in part due to the development of tourism in their major nesting grounds.

The Caretta Caretta Loggerhead Turtles Life Cycle

The Caretta Caretta loggerhead turtle’s mating period may last up to six weeks. It appears that the turtles court their mates. Nuzzling, biting, head movements and flipper movements are all examples of male courtship behaviour.

Studies show that male Caretta Caretta loggerhead sea turtles approach the females and attempt to mount them, while females resist. The male and female Caretta Caretta sea turtles may circle each other, and if the male has competitors, the female may leave the males to struggle with each other. The winner then mounts the female and mating begins.

Over a mating season in Zante the female Caretta Caretta loggerhead turtles usually produce two or three nests. After this they produce no eggs for an average two to three years.

Unlike other sea turtles, courtship and mating usually do not take place near the nesting beach, but rather along migration routes between feeding and breeding grounds.
In the Mediterranean, Caretta Caretta loggerhead turtles mate from late March to early June. The nesting season peaks in June and July, but varies by nesting beach.
All sea turtles have similar basic nesting behaviors. Females return to lay their eggs on or near the beach where they hatched. They haul out of the water, climb the beach, excavate a body pit, lay eggs, fill the egg chamber, fill the body pit, and finally return to sea.

Hatchlings average about 1.8 inches in length and weigh around 20 grams when they are born.

After hatching, the baby Caretta Caretta turtles enter the sea and swim away from land for several days. The "post-hatchlings" then return to find a home rather close to shore. They may stay there for months, feeding on floating material and occasionally swimming to keep from getting too cold.

Eventually, they enter ocean currents farther from shore and move into the oceanic zone where they remain until they reach the juvenile stage of their life, between the ages 7 and 12.

Only one in each 1,000 baby Caretta Caretta turtles is expected to survive once they make it to the open seas.

  • With soft shells they are eaten by fish and other sea animals. They also get caught in fishing nets and are sometimes suffocated by plastic bags floating in the ocean.
  • Those that do survive go on to move into the neritic zone and remain there until reaching adulthood. The neritic zone is also an important area for adult foraging and inter-nesting habitats.
  • Sea turtles live in almost every ocean of the world. Their smooth shells and paddle-like flippers help them speed through the water as fast as 24 kph. These long-distance travellers have been known to swim up to 4828 km.
  • Although Caretta Caretta sea turtles cannot withdraw their heads into their shells, the adult Caretta Caretta loggerhead turtles are protected from predators by their shells, their large size, and of course the thick scaly skin on their heads and necks.

Threats to the Caretta Caretta in  Zante Zakynthos Greece

In recent decades, with the development of tourism in particular, a number of threats to the Caretta Caretta have emerged.

With such difficulties facing the Caretta Caretta turtle, it is clear why they are now registered as an endangered species. It is important for tourists to understand and respect their natural environment, and work with the National Marine Park of Zakynthos to help protect these sea turtles.
Fishing gear poses one of the largest threats to the loggerhead sea turtles, who are commonly caught in long lines and gill nets, and accidentally captured in traps, pots, trawls, and dredges. When caught up in fishing gear, Caretta Caretta turtles risk serious injury or drowning.

  • Artificial lighting is a particular problem for the loggerhead hatchlings, contributing to thousands of deaths per year. Hatchlings move to the water soon after birth, using the glare of moonlight in the ocean as their guide down to the sea. Artificial lighting often leads these hatchlings in dangerous directions.
  • The loggerhead turtles spend a significant portion of their lives in the open ocean and are often harmed by mistaking floating debris, such as plastic bags and pellets for jellyfish, one of their main sources of food. Ingesting a plastic bag can kill a Caretta Caretta turtle.
    Development of tourist beaches, docks and marinas can destroy near shore habitats and risks harming the loggerheads through gasoline and oil discharge at the marina fuelling stations.
  • Boat traffic and dredging can degrade the loggerheads' habitats and can also potentially injure or kill loggerheads by hitting them. In recent years, a number of turtles have been maimed around Zante by boat propellers making contact with their fins.
  • Disruption of the turtle during nesting, by humans or objects such as sun loungers, can cause a female turtle to abandon her egg laying process. If the female Caretta Caretta becomes frightened while on the beach she may return to the sea and abort her eggs.

Protecting the Caretta Caretta in Zakynthos

The National Marine Park in Zakynthos works hard to protect the turtles in Zante from danger and disruption.

There are a number of threats to the Caretta Caretta here, and they have set out to minimize the impact of human development on this endangered species. Marine Park kiosks are located all along the southern coast of the island, covering the area of Laganas to Gerakas, and the island of Marathonisi, pelouzo, and the beach of Sekania.

The National Marine Park has issued a few simple guidelines for tourists in Zante. Access to the main beaches in the Gulf of Laganas and Gerakas is prohibited between sunset and sunrise

  • Sun umbrellas must not be placed in the sand in marked zones
  • Rubbish must be cleared away off the beaches to ensure it will not interrupt the crawl of the Caretta Caretta turtles as they make their way across the sand
  • Bright lights should not be turned on near nesting beaches at night because it disturbs the turtles
  • Vehicles are prohibited on the protected beaches
  • Only passive watersports may be performed on the main nesting beaches in the Gulf of Laganas

The National Marine Park also implements a number of other protective measures to ensure the turtles are as undisturbed as possible. In many places during the nesting season, eco-workers search the coastline for nests. They uncover the nest and count its eggs. If necessary they relocate it to protect it from humans and other threats.

Caretta caretta Loggerhead Sea Turtle earth sea & sky sos appeal

S.O.S Turtle Rescue Appeal in Zanjte Zakynthos Greece

Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) have been on earth for 250 million years and are contemporaries of the earliest dinosaurs. The species, as with all sea turtles is endangered. Each summer hundreds of Loggerheads return to Zakynthos to mate and lay their eggs on the beaches in Laganas Bay.

Zakynthos is the most important nesting ground in Europe, with 80% of the Meditteranean population returning each summer. Loggerheads only return to the beach where they hatched, so the Zakynthian population is indigenous. If they die out the island will not be repopulated by turtles from other areas in the Mediterranean.

However, as well as being a sea turtle nursery, Zakynthos is also a popular holiday destination, and each summer, at the same time that the turtles return, the island turns into a playground for hundreds of thousands of tourists. With unchecked tourist development of the land, nesting areas are under immense pressure from illegal building, pollution, illegal beach furniture and traffic. From only 11.5km of nesting beach in Laganas Bay, only 5.5km remain in a good state to attract nesting turtles.

Tourism is a critical and worsening situation in Zakynthos in terms of nesting beach destruction, but coupled with the fact that with only 1 or 2 out of every 1000 hatchlings naturally surviving to reach adulthood and reproduce, the species is teetering precariously on the edge. Yannis Vardakastanis, ESS' founder, says that when he was a child growing up at Gerakas, he remembers the beaches black with hatchlings and females nesting during the daytime.

  • 30 years on this is no longer seen, due to the degradation of nesting beaches, tourists on the beaches day and night, falling nest numbers and many hatchlings not even making it to the sea. Moreover each summer many adults are seriously injured or die as a direct result of tourism.
  • Although water sports have been banned in Laganas Bay, boating activity is unchecked. Private yachts come and go as they please with little regard for speed limits
  • Turtle spotting boats are rife. Many chase the turtles, some pull them out of the water to show tourists, and cause immense distress to these animals which are only trying to rest after their exhausting nesting process. Then there are the glass bottom boats which operate in such a way as to force the turtles to dive underneath in order for paying customers to see them.
  • Although fishing is banned in Laganas Bay over the summer months, laws are not enforced and as a result turtles are still being caught in nets, ingest hooks and fishing line and become ill and die. They also swallow plastic bags which float in the water like jellyfish. These become twisted in the gut, the turtles are unable to eat, grow weak and starve to death.
  • However, the most horrific injuries occur when speed boats collide with turtles. Injures consist of deep cuts to the carapace (shell) and internal organs, from which turtles can die a slow and agonizing death.

However, turtles can recover if found in time and given emergency treatment. Normally when an injured turtle is found, she is flown the Rescue Hospital in Glyfada, Athens, a flight of more than 1 hour. Flights are no longer available, so they have to be driven and on a noisy ferry on a 6 hour journey. This wait can be the difference between life and death. Immediate treatment is essential for the turtle to survive.

To change this, Earth Sea & Sky has teamed up with Sea Life Centre UK's SOS Campaign. Each year the influential conservation and campaigning arm of the European network of Sea Life Centres - the SOS Programme - champions a worthy cause and this year it is to launch an ambitious campaign, with Earth Sea & Sky, to raise 500,000 Euros (£350,000) to build a Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. We want to ensure that injured turtles can receive immediate medical treatment from specialist marine vets, rehabilitation and ultimately release back into the ocean, all without having to be flown to Athens.