Key population of loggerhead turtles in Greece thrives during pandemic

This year’s pandemic-induced quietness and lack of tourists on many of the world’s beaches has been a true blessing for endangered turtles. Record numbers of turtle nests and high hatching success rates have been recorded in a number of places with important nesting sites, from Thailand and the Philippines to Brazil and Florida.

Now, a similar positive trend comes from the Mediterranean, where a key population of turtles on a Greek island has been given a rare respite from the disturbances of tourism by the downturn caused by the pandemic.

The unusual lack of human interference has produced one of the best years on record for the number of nests dug by female loggerhead turtles on the Greek island of Zakynthos, with conservationists counting more than 1,500.

It is an incredible feat for the species’ conservation efforts since beaches on the Ionian island are the most important nesting sites for loggerhead turtles in the entire Mediterranean, but at the same time, Zakynthos is a hugely popular tourist destination.

The turtles lay their eggs between May and July, just when the tourist season is normally getting underway. Loungers, umbrellas, as well as lots of lights and noise from beach bars, are all likely to disrupt a successful hatching season.

“This year has been very different and we have an amazing number of nests – we’ve counted 1,541,” said Charikleia Minotou, from WWF Greece. “We’ve not seen so many since 1995. It’s because of the lack of tourists.”

The eggs take around two months to hatch, meaning that there are already hatchlings struggling their way down the beaches into the Aegean. Only one in 1,000 of them will survive to maturity. Female loggerheads return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs and their hatchlings will in turn make the same return journey once they are sexually mature.

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