Συλλόγου για την Προστασία της Θαλάσσιας Χελώνας, ΑΡΧΕΛΩΝ

 

Project Areas

Protection of Nesting activity in Peloponnesus

Introduction

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.

Human impacts

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.

Nest Management

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.

Public Awareness

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.

Peloponnisos - Lakonikos Bay

The Lakonikos Bay project is conducted at the beaches surrounding Gytheio, a beautiful town characterized by its picturesque port, neoclassical houses, narrow, uphill alleys, stone-paved streets, and marble stairs. According to Greek mythology, Gytheio is the place where the god Apollo fought with Hercules for the magic tripod of the Delphic oracle, and where at the end they reconciled, giving the area its current name (Gytheio from the words “gi” and “theos”, which mean “Land of the gods”).

These unique, both in natural wealth and beauty, beaches of Lakonikos Bay (Mavrovouni, Valtaki, Selinitsa, Vathy) have a total length of about 8.5 km and accommodate, on average, 210 loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nests every year, and the marine area is the only spot in Greece where another species of sea turtle, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), is frequently encountered in the sea. A part of this area has been included in the European Union Natura 2000 network under the code GR2540003 "EVROTAS DELTA" as it constitutes not only a nesting area for the sea turtles, but also serves as a rest, reproductive and foraging area for many bird species as well. Also, protected plant species such as the sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) flourish in the sand dunes zone. Finally, the marine ecosystems Lakonikos Bay include vast Posidonia Meadows, i.e. areas of endemic sea grass species (“Posidonia oceana”/”Neptune Grass”) which constitute an important foraging and reproductive ground for a large number and variety of organisms and commercially significant fish.

Since 1983, ARCHELON has been conducting annual summer field projects in the area, aiming to record data relating to the turtles’ nesting activity as well as protecting the nests. Specifically, reproductive activity is recorded at the beach next to the Evrotas estuaries (from Kokkinia on the east to Trinisa on the west), and on the beaches Mavrovouni, Vathy, Selinitsa and Valtaki on the western part of the Bay. The reproductive period begins in early June and ends in the last days of September, during which time volunteers from around the world participate in the ARCHELON program through the following activities:

  • Morning observation, during which loggerhead reproductive activity is recorded daily
  • 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.

Volunteers can spend their free time by swimming, wandering through in the narrow streets of the town of Gytheio, visit the unique villages of Mani and, of course, enjoy the famous Mani cuisine.

It is worth mentioning that in 1989, ARCHELON, headquartered in Gytheio, started the first pilot programme of interactions between turtles and fisheries in Greece, in collaboration with the fishermen of Lakonikos Bay. This programme was the starting point for the expansion of ARCHELON's in-water activities and the development of cooperative programmes with fishermen in other areas. Also, in the context of the European Community LIFE-Nature program, 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.