Protection of Nesting activity in Peloponnesus
The Peloponnese, a peninsula which is the southernmost part of mainland Greece, is a historically and culturally rich area. Inhabited since the Neolithic period (6000-2600 BC), it was the site of important ancient political and cultural centers such as Mycenae and Sparta, and the rich cultural activity continued during the Byzantine period. More recently, the Peloponnese played an important role in the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. The many and varied events which have taken place in the area over the centuries have visibly left their mark, as can be seen from the numerous important archaeological sites and monuments of architectural interest.
The Peloponnese is also famous for its rich natural heritage. Many areas are included in the European Network "Natura 2000" because they are important habitats for priority species of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic. The inhabitants of the area mainly engage in agriculture and fishing, while recently there has been an increase in tourism-related activities.
After preliminary beach surveys carried out in early 1980s, ARCHELON identified a significant number of loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtle nests along some of the Peloponnese beaches. Since then, ARCHELON has been organizing projects for the monitoring of loggerhead reproductive activity, protection of their nests, and increasing public awareness about the sea turtles and the dangers they face. Every year, ARCHELON projects take place at four of the most important nesting areas: the Kyparissia Bay area (2 projects), the Lakoniko Bay area, and Koroni and Romanos beaches. In recent years, about 30 km of beach (15km in the Kyparissia Bay area, 8.5 km in the Lakoniko Bay area, 2.5 km at Koroni and 3km at Romanos beach) are monitored every summer. On average, 1,140 loggerhead nests are made every year in the Peloponnese.
Kyparissia Bay, Lakoniko Bay and Romanos beach have been included in the European Network "Natura 2000" with the codes “THINES KYPARISSIAS” (GR2550005), “EKVOLES EVROTA” (GR2540003) and “PYLOS LAGOON (Divari) AND SFACTERIA ISLAND (AGHIOS DIMITRIOS)” (GR 2550004), respectively.
Up until now, the Peloponnese loggerhead nesting beaches have not been much affected by human intervention. In fact, many of them are part of the last, well-preserved coastal sand dune ecosystems in Greece. However, as in the rest of Greece, “development” plans are often designed without any environmental study and without respect for the uniqueness and importance of each region.
In particular, the increasing popularity and use of the beaches by tourists frequently places strong pressure on the ecosystems, mainly because of the improper organization of facilities for tourists by local entrepreneurs: Umbrellas, sun beds, artificial lights and vehicles on the beach are just some of the problems faced by sea turtles in the area. However, the fact that the majority of beaches in the Peloponnese have not yet been devastated by human intervention motivates ARCHELON to continue the great effort it has been making to maintain the areas in a state as close as possible to their natural one.
Predation by foxes and dogs is a common phenomenon on the Peloponnese beaches, and especially those which have a developed dune ecosystem at the back (e.g. Valtaki in Lakonikos bay), which serves as a natural shelter for wild animals such as foxes. All loggerhead nests found during the morning surveys on the beach are checked for the suitability of their location. If the location is deemed to be safe from inundation or damage from any other natural treat, then special equipment to protect the nests from predators is constructed around them. Specifically, a metal grid is placed in the sand above the nest and "anchored" with natural “pegs” from the region (i.e. bamboo sticks). A sign (in three languages ??- Greek, English, and German) informing the beach users about the nest and the aim of the protective enclosure is attached to it.
If a nest location is believed to be unsuitable (e.g. because it is very close to the sea and in danger of being flooded), the nest is relocated to a safer part of the beach or within a natural hatchery area set up by ARCHELON.
During the hatching period, the increased number of sources of artificial light on the back of the beach disorients hatchlings, who instinctively head towards the sea following the natural light in the night (moon and stars). Unfortunately, they can be attracted by the artificial lights and head towards the land instead of the sea. Efforts to gradually mitigate the problem of light pollution include communication with local authorities and local business operators to persuade them to switch off the lights that cause disorientation. If this is not possible and/or the effort is unsuccessful, ARCHELON places “light fences” around the nests. The fences, with a height of around 20cm, are made of old or donated beach mats and are 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.
Cooperation with the local community
In the context of two LIFE-Nature projects, ARCHELON prepared a Special Environmental Study as well as a Management Plan for the coastal zone for the areas of Kyparissiakos and Lakonikos Bay, respectively. The aim of the project was to promote sustainable management of the areas in cooperation with local governments and the support of local communities. Implementation of the plan would effectively protect the environment and foster the viable development of the local economy.
In 1989, the first pilot fisheries program in Greece was launched by ARCHELON. Based in Gytheio, this program was the starting point for the expansion of ARCHELON activities at sea and the development of cooperative programs with the local community and, in particular, with fishermen in other areas.
Finally, ARCHELON promotes the incorporation of sea turtles in the Peloponnese’s tourism product by demonstrating the mutual benefits of doing so: The preference of turtles for the area is an indication of a healthy, natural beach and sea environment, something which would appeal to tourists and a fact that can be promoted at a local and international level. In addition, ARCHELON's attempts to combat important problems the sea turtles face, such as pollution and coastal degradation, contribute towards sustaining a high-quality level of tourism.
The aim of the Public Awareness program is to create mutual trust and cooperation between ARCHELON, the local community, and businesses operating locally in the tourism sector. ARCHELON operates three Information Stations in the Peloponnese: in the village of Kalo Nero (Messinia), at the beach of Mavovouni (Lakonia), and at the port of Koroni (Messinia). Every year, about 15,000 visitors are informed about sea turtles and the dangers they face both at the Information Stations and through live presentations held in tourism venues. In addition, the general public is invited to observe various types of field activities (e.g. excavation of nests). The schedule of these events is communicated through the Information Stations, and gives the public the chance to watch the ARCHELON team in action, and at the same time learn more about the biology of sea turtles and the threats that they face. At all Public Awareness activities, informational brochures are distributed in several languages.
Since 2000, the Environmental Station of Agiannaki (which was established with funding from the EU LIFE-Nature program) has been operating in the village of Agiannaki (Trifylia), near the town of Kyparissia. The Station is situated at the back of the beach of South Kyparissiakos Bay, the second most important nesting beach for the sea turtle Caretta caretta in the Mediterranean. The Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) has kindly provided one of its buildings to house the Environmental Station, and every year (during May and June) a special Environmental Education program for primary, elementary and high school students is offered by ARCHELON.
The Gulf of Kyparissia
The Kyparissia Bay area is the second largest nesting habitat of the loggerhead (Caretta caretta ) sea turtle in the Mediterranean. It is situated in the western Peloponnese, and extends from Katakolo Cape in the north to Kounelos Cape in the south. The magnificent sandy beach is 46 km long, and it is only dissected by the Alfios River (which is the longest river in the Pelopponese) and two smaller ones – the Neda and the Arkadikos. The majestic scenery is characterized by the coastal forest of pine trees all along the upper part of the beach, by the largest and richest zone of sand dunes in Greece, and by the rhythm of the Ionian Sea, which offers moments of peace and relaxation.
In Kyparissiakos Bay, there are about 870 Caretta caretta nests annually, the majority of which (86%) are mainly found in the southernmost part of the Bay, and more specifically, in a 10 km area between the Neda estuary and the village of Kalo Nero, which area constitutes the heart of the habitat. This area has been included in the European Union Natura 2000 network under the code GR2550005 "Thines Kyparissias: Noehori - Kyparissia" mainly due to its importance for sea turtles nesting, as well as for the protected flora in the sand dunes zone. The sea area around the Bay has also been included in the same network of EU Natura 2000 protected areas under the code GR2330008 "Kyparissia Bay sea area: Katakolo Cape - Kyparissia" due to the existence of widespread Posidonia Meadows, i.e. areas of endemic sea grass species (“Posidonia oceana”/”Neptune Grass”) which constitute an important feeding and reproductive ground for a large number and variety of organisms.
Since 1983, ARCHELON has been conducting annual summer field projects in the area between the Neda estuary and Kalo Nero village, aiming to record data relating to the turtles’ nesting activity as well as protecting the nests.
The loggerhead reproductive activity begins in mid-May and lasts until October. During this period, especially from 7 May through 30 September, volunteers from around the world participate in the ARCHELON program through the following activities:
- Morning observation, during which loggerhead reproductive activity is recorded daily
- Night observation and measuring and tagging the nesting adult sea turtles
- Protection of the nests from both human activity and predation by mammals (i.e. foxes, dogs etc.), which is done by enclosing the nest in a ‘cage’ with an attached sign explaining about the nest. In areas where light pollution may disorient the hatchlings when they emerge, special ‘shading’ is built to help guide the hatchlings to the sea.
- Excavation of the nests after the hatchlings have emerged, in order to estimate the number hatching success etc.
- Increasing public awareness by operating a seasonal information station in Kalo Nero village, by organizing informational slide shows at tourist facilities and campgrounds of the area, as well as by conducting beach patrols during the day in order to raise the bathers' awareness of the importance of the nesting beach.
In the context of the European Community LIFE-Nature program conducted in the area by ARCHELON, two main actions should be noted:
- A special Environmental Study and Managerial Project for the coastal zone has been developed with the aim of promoting - in collaboration with the local community - a sustainable management plan for both the efficient protection of the physical environment as well as the regulated, long-term development of the local economy.
- A Scientific and Environmental Station has been set up in the Agiannakis area which, offers an environmental education program, including guided tours for schools and visitors.