Conservation

Nest at Ai Chelis

Loggerhead sea turtles are threatened by extinction. The turtles of Kefalonia are especially vulnerable because their population is small and humans have degraded their natural habitats. Scientific research, conservation actions, and public awareness are necessary to save them from extinction.

At Wildlife Sense we protect all sea turtle nests and emerging hatchlings, we study the juvenile and adult turtle population of the island, identify and study threats, and take conservation and legal actions to eradicate them. We also educate locals and visitors of the island about sea turtles and what everyone can do to help.

Sea turtle nest track on Skala beach

What are the main threats?

  • Fishing nets and longlines injure or kill a large number of sea turtles each year,
  • Light pollution and other disturbances scare turtles away and misorient their hatchlings,
  • Beach and coastal alterations damage their nesting habitat,
  • Visitors on the beach cause accidental damage to the nests,
  • Weather and erosion can also cause damage during storms,
  • Wild and domestic animals dig on the nests and damage the eggs,
  • Speed boats and ships often strike and injure or kill turtles with their propellers,
  • Sea turtles can die after they swallow plastic, which they confuse for food,
  • Fishermen and visitors feeding sea turtles in the harbour of Argostoli attract them to this area, where they are much more likely to be harmed.
Protected nest in Avithos, Kefalonia

Protecting sea turtle nests

Measuring light pollution on a sea turtle nesting beach

Every time we find a new nest, we measure its distance to the sea to assess the risk of damage by weather and erosion. The closer a nest is to the waves, the higher the chances it will get damaged during a storm. When the risk is significant, our team will relocate the nest to a safer location, where the eggs can incubate safely.

Cleaning Minies beach for World Oceans Day 2014

We fence each nest with bamboo poles, marking tape, and a nest sign to prevent accidental damage. In the touristy beaches of Kefalonia, this simple method significantly reduces accidental damage. It also helps us easily keep an eye on the nests during incubation to make sure they are not targeted by predators. We check each nest during and after storms to prevent any damage or to restore the nests if any damage does happen. Some nests are more prone to depredation from stray dogs or ferrets. To protect those nests, we add a metal cage on top of the nest. This prevents animals from digging in the sand, but still allows hatchlings to emerge and crawl to the sea.

excavation on avithos

In rare cases of violations, we record any activities that may harm nests or prevent turtles from nesting. We notify the violators directly, and this is usually enough to stop them, but  we also report violations to the environmental protection authority who then take legal action to secure the turtles and their habitat remain protected.

Light pollution

Light pollution is one of the biggest human-caused threats to sea turtle nests in Kefalonia. Our teams regularly measure levels of light pollution on each nesting beach. We ask beach bar, hotel, restaurant, and home owners to switch off or cover their lights so they are not visible from the beach. When this doesn't work, we rescue hatchlings as they emerge from affected nests and make sure they can reach the sea safely. To ensure a long-term solution, we report light pollution levels, and the problems it causes to nesting sea turtles and emerging hatchlings, to the Ministry of Environment in an effort to promote the enforcement of controls on light pollution.

Plastic pollution

Special beach-cleaning events are organized on all nesting beaches at the start of the season, and throughout the summer when necessary. We remove plastics washed up on the beach to ensure they don't return get washed back to the sea to kill turtles and other animals. In the bay of Argostoli, where volunteers patrol the sea-front daily, we use small nets to remove plastics directly from the water. We check turtles swimming in the bay to make sure they are not trapped in or have swallowed plastic items that may cause them to suffocate. When that does happen, our team rescues affected turtles. On special occasions, we organize plastic-collection snorkelling expeditions. This is important near nesting beaches, where bottom-dwelling plastics stay dormant on the sea floor until their next victim confuses them for food.

Nest inventory

Seven days after the eggs have hatched, we take a nest inventory to identify the outcome of each egg. This helps us correlate the incubation success rate of the nest with environmental conditions, any storms that occurred during incubation, any other parameters as well as our conservation actions that contribute to nest success. This important feedback helps us continue improving our conservation actions.