It is widely known that loggerhead sea turtles nest on the southern beaches of Kefalonia and many areas of west and south Greece. These sea turtles are the only species that nests in Greece. But another species, the green turtle, also swims in the region, and I had the rare opportunity to see one of them swimming in Kefalonia last summer.
Green turtles nest further east in the Mediterranean sea, in Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. They are larger in size than their loggerhead cousins, but this one was a juvenile, not an adult. Juveniles of this species have often been reported in Lakonikos bay, south Peloponnese, where they find plenty of sea grass. Marine plants are the primary source of food for green turtles, since the older they get, the more they shift into a vegetarian diet.
Yaniv Levy, the head of the Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Micmoret, Israel, coordinates an ongoing project to monitor the genetic diversity of green sea turtles in the Mediterranean Sea. When we informed him of the presence of a green turtle in Kefalonia, he commented that she must have found a good source of food to be that far away from their usual range. Of course this is not a big surprise; The south coast of Kefalonia is home to a healthy ecosystem of sea grass meadows, in theory protected by the European Commission's Natura 2000 network.
Green turtles are even more threatened by extinction than the loggerheads. This was mainly caused by the massive hunting they suffered for their meat until it was banned in 1974. Their presence in Kefalonia is not only of scientific concern, but also raises the importance of the island's sea grass meadows and the need for their study and effective protection.