Protection of Nesting activity in Crete - Messara
After preliminary surveys carried out in 1989, ARCHELON identified a significant number of loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nests along some of the beaches on Crete. Since then, projects for the monitoring of nesting activity, protection of nests, and increasing public awareness have been taking place at three of the most important nesting areas on the island: in the bays of Rethymno and Chania on the north coast, and in the Bay of Messara on the south. In recent years, about 34.5 km of beach are monitored every summer (i.e. 12 km in the Rethymno Bay area, 14.5 km along the Bay of Chania, and 8 km along the Bay of Messara). On average, 430 nests are made by the loggerheads every year in those areas. It is worth noting that the Caretta caretta sea turtles of Crete appear to have different DNA than the other loggerhead sea turtles which nest in Greece.
The nesting beaches of Crete are subjected to strong pressures, primarily due to their exploitation for purposes of tourism and recreation. Beach umbrellas, sunbeds, artificial lights, and vehicle use on the beach are only some of the problems faced by sea turtles attempting to nest.
Due to the human impact on the beaches and natural threats to the nests, the ARCHELON field team implements various protection measures in the nesting areas of Crete, including the following:
- All nests found during the morning beach surveys are checked for the suitability of their location. If it is determined that a nest is not likely to be threatened by inundation or endangered by any other natural threat, it is left as is, and a metal cage is placed above it. The cages identify the location of each nest and protect them from accidental damage by beach users; each cage has a notice in three languages (Greek, English, and German) to inform the public about its purpose.
- If a nest location is determined to be unsuitable, the nest is relocated to a safer part of the beach or within a hatchery. Hatcheries are fenced beach plots created by ARCHELON team members in locations which have the best possible conditions to produce a high rate of successful hatchings. These hatcheries are also used as public awareness tools, since they attract the attention of beach users.
- During the hatching period (which many times occurs at night), the many sources of artificial light from shops, roads, houses, etc. at the back of the beach disorients the hatchlings, which are guided to the sea by the light of the moon and stars shining on its surface. The hatchlings are attracted by the artificial lights and head towards the land instead of the sea.
Efforts to gradually resolve the problem of light pollution include communication with local authorities and local business operators in order to gain their cooperation to switch off the lights that disorient the hatchlings. If this is not possible and/or the effort is unsuccessful, ARCHELON team members build ‘light fences’ around the nests. The fences, with a height of around 20cm, are made of beach mats inserted vertically into the sand along both sides and the back of the nest, thus creating a ‘path’ towards the sea. This intervention significantly reduces the mortality of hatchlings caused by light pollution.
Local community cooperation
A management plan exclusively relating to the nesting beaches of Crete was formulated by ARCHELON in 1997 and presented to local authorities. It suggests practical solutions for the conservation of the coastal zone and the sea turtles. The management plan was designed to be implemented at a low cost, and also aimed to integrate sea turtle conservation with the sustainable development of the local tourism industry. Protected zones in valuable commercial areas, such as Crete, can only be sustained if the local communities incorporate conservation initiatives into their growth plans. Consequently, ARCHELON is in close collaboration with all relevant authorities and the tourism industry at both the local and national level regarding the implementation of the management plan.
To successfully implement the plan and deal with any problems which may arise, ARCHELON and the local authorities communicate regularly. Local authorities keep ARCHELON informed about what is happening in the area, and ARCHELON serves as an advisor on activities that may have an impact on the nesting beaches or the sea turtles (e.g. the use of heavy machinery for cleaning beach sand).
In addition, the work of ARCHELON enhances Crete's tourism appeal by drawing attention to the benefits sea turtles provide to the local community: Turtles are an indication of a healthy, natural environment, an advantage that can be promoted at both a local and international level. ARCHELON's attempts to resolve important problems faced by the sea turtles (such as pollution and coastal erosion) also contribute to maintaining the quality of the tourism experience at a high level
Travel agencies have proved to be an important ally for ARCHELON, since they have the ability to provide information to their customers both prior to and upon arrival at the nesting areas. In fact, ARCHELON collaborates with an ever-increasing number of travel organizers, such as TUI, TUI Nordic, HOTELPLAN, and PURE CRETE. ARCHELON has also had a long-term, substantive relationship with major hotel chains such as GRECOTEL, AQUILA HOTELS AND RESORTS, AEGEAN STAR, ATLANTICA CALDERA HOTELS, GERANIOTIS HOTEL and LOUIS HOTELS. (It is worth noting that the GERANIOTIS HOTEL provided land free of charge for the ARCHELON volunteer campsite in Chania from 1995 until 2014. Their generous support has been a positive contribution to the successful operation of the field project.)
ARCHELON is an advisor to the environmental departments of the above-mentioned tourism enterprises about issues involving coastal management. Since the year 2000, more and more tourism-related businesses in Crete have been implementing ARCHELON’s management plan suggestions relative to the nesting habitat of sea turtles.
The aims of the Public Awareness programme are (1) to create mutual trust and cooperation between ARCHELON, members of the local community, and businesses which operate locally in the tourism sector, and (2) inform the general public about sea turtles, the dangers they face, and the work of ARCHELON.
ARCHELON has three Information Stations in Crete: one in the old harbour of Chania, one in the old harbour of Rethymno, and one in Matala. Every year, about 100,000 visitors receive information about ARCHELON and its work to protect sea turtles from the Information Stations and from live presentations given by ARCHELON volunteers at tourism venues. In all public awareness activities, informational brochures (available in several languages) about the work of ARCHELON and how people can help sea turtles by supporting ARCHELON, are distributed.
The third largest Caretta caretta sea turtle nesting habitat in Crete is located in the area of Messara Bay. The Bay is located in southern Crete and extends from Kommos beach in the south to Kokkinos Pyrgos village in the north.
The 8km of nesting beaches in the Messara Bay area are naturally beautiful, wide and sandy, and the sea is clean. Most of the area is not developed, i.e. it is not heavily populated or overbuilt. The crystal clear water and the rich zone of sand dunes at the back of the beach are special characteristics of these beaches, which offer moments of peace and relaxation to visitors.
Based on a statistical analysis of data collected for 21 years, the Messara Bay beaches have an average of about 59 Caretta caretta nests each year. An analysis of recent data relating to the nesting activity indicate an annual range in the number of the nests which is stable, i.e. the number of nests does not show a particular trend of increasing or decreasing.
Since 1993, ARCHELON has been recording and protecting nesting activity on the Messara Bay beaches. This area has been included in the European Union Natura 2000 network under the codes GR4310004 “Dytika Asterousia (from Agiofarango to Kokkino Pyrgo)” and GR4310012 “Ekvoli Geropotamou Messaras”
The loggerhead reproduction period starts in the middle of May and lasts until September. During this time, and more specifically from 25 May until 30 September, with the participation of volunteers all over the world, ARCHELON carries out the following activities:
- Morning observation, during which reproductive activity is recorded daily.
- Protection of nests from human activity (i.e. fencing/caging and marking the nests, and shading them from light pollution, where necessary).
- Excavation of nests after the exit of the hatchlings in order to estimate the number that left the nest.
- Increasing public awareness about ARCHELON and its work by operating a seasonal Information Station in the village of Matala, by organizing informational slide shows in tourist venues and campgrounds of the area, as well as by conducting beach patrols in order to inform beach users.