Protection of Caretta caretta sea turtle reproductive activity in Kefalonia
Kefalonia (or Kefalinnia), is the largest and most mountainous of the Ionian Islands, and is the third highest in population, after Corfu and Zakynthos. Kefalonia is located north of Zakynthos island, south of Lefkada, and west of Ithaca, and has an area of approximately 734,014 square kilometers, with about 35,801 inhabitants. There are different versions of how the island got its name. Some believe it is derived from the mythical figure of Kephalus, who helped Amphitryon of Mycenae in a war against the Taphians and Teleboans and was given the island as a reward. However, other versions say that Kefalonia was named after the Greek tribe of Kefalonia or Kefallanians, who were the original inhabitants of the island. There is evidence that Kefalonia has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era.
The coast of Kefalonia consists of many bays and headlands. The most important bays are Sami, Myrtos, Lourdas, Atheras, Fiskardo, Livadi and Koutavos lagoon, situated at the head of Argostoli Bay. The main capes are Munda, Kápros, Sarakiniko, Mitikas, Kedri, North Dafnoudi, Northwest Atheras, West Ortholithia, Skiza and Gerogompos, South Akrotiri, Agia Pelagia, Liakas, Kastanas etc. Generally, the coasts on the Ioanian Sea are rocky and steep, while the East side of the island has more moderate formations. Besides its cultural heritage, Kefalonia is famous for its rich natural heritage: Many areas of the island are included in the European Network “Natura 2000” because of the important habitats of priority species of flora and fauna which exist there. In fact, many of the species are endemic to the island.
From 1983 until 2000, a group of university researchers from the UK worked with a local Kefalonia group to create a special protection program for the Caretta caretta sea turtle. The program involved the university researchers, their scientific associates, and the volunteers/members of the local not-for-profit environmental association “Katelios Group for the Study and Protection of Marine and Terrestrial Life” (http://www.kateliosgroup.org/). Since 1997, ARCHELON has developed a close working relationship with the Katelios Group, who acquired the requisite knowledge and experience in monitoring and protecting the important population of Kefalonia turtles. As a result, in 2000, ARCHELON and the Katelios Group decided to continue the existing program collaboratively. The program currently covers the entire island, with emphasis on the Kateleiou- Mounda Bay area, which has been included in the European Network “Natura 2000”, with the code “SEA COASTAL ZONE FROM TO ARGOSTOLI VLAHATA AND BAY” (GR 2220004)
The Kefalonia nesting beaches are subject to heavy pressure from humans, mainly because the beaches have become increasingly valuable to the tourism industry. The presence of beach umbrellas and artificial lights, as well as the use of vehicles on the beach, are some of the problems faced by the sea turtles.
Because of human intervention and natural threats, a protocol of protection measures has been set up. For example, all nests that are found during the morning beach survey are checked for the suitability of their location: If they are not directly at risk of being flooded or destroyed/damaged from any other natural cause, then the nest is left in place. If it is determined that the position of the nest poses a threat to the survival of the eggs, then the nest is relocated to a safer place on the beach.
When the hatchlings are leaving the nest, they can become disoriented by artificial light sources at the back of the beaches. This is because hatchlings naturally find their way to the sea by moving towards the light of the moon and stars reflected on the sea surface; artificial light sources attract the hatchlings, which move inland rather than to the sea. To resolve this issue, the local authorities and coastal business owners are contacted and requested to turn off the lights which cause the problem.
Local community cooperation
The Katelios Group is a unique phenomenon in the Greek effort to protect sea turtles and nesting beaches, as its members not only possess the necessary scientific training and experience, but they all come from communities of Kefalonia, a factor which personally links them to the protection of sea turtles and nesting beaches. This pool of knowledgeable, conscientious volunteers is an asset which enables the Katelios Group to continue their work for a long term, without the need for volunteers from abroad.