Observing a rare animal in the wild is an experience that fascinates people across all ages and cultures. It reminds us of the beauty and value of our natural environment, but also teaches us the need to protect it.
Laganas Bay in Zakynthos, Protected Area of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos (NMPZ), is one of the few areas in the Mediterranean where a large number of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) congregate to reproduce during spring and summer. The presence of sea turtles in Laganas Bay offers visitors and residents of the island the unique opportunity to observe these endangered animals in their natural environment.
While turtle observations have the potential to raise awareness about the value of the species and to teach the public about the unique wildlife of the island, such activities can also cause significant disturbance to the animals.
In order to minimize the negative impact of wildlife watching, mainly through the use of boats, the Management Body of the NMPZ, in cooperation with ARCHELON, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, has issued guidelines for proper observation procedures of sea turtles. These were developed and tested as a result of close collaboration between scientists and practitioners experienced in turtle observations. These guidelines, which are required to be implemented by all boat operators, ensure the balance between the protection of the species and the opportunity of the public to enjoy a sustainable and educational wildlife watching experience.
Why should we not feed a sea turtle? Lately, a practice has been observed, which not only contradicts the effective protection of sea turtles but harms the image of the island as a destination with a Protected Area. According to concerns expressed by several tourists and residents of Zakynthos, turtles were observed being fed and petted. Feeding vegetables or fruit off turtle-spotting boats or other vessels, as well as off mooring areas has recently become a tool to attract turtles to the surface of the sea, to give visitors the opportunity to photograph or even touch the wild animals.
Sea turtles are a migratory species. Journeys within the Mediterranean Sea, between their breeding habitats and foraging grounds, are an important part of their life cycle. As for any wild animal, contact with humans affects their natural behavior. The practice of feeding sea turtles not only interferes with their natural diet, but also teaches people a misconception about wildlife. The key element, which constitutes the cultural, psychological and commercial value of the observation of wildlife, is the idea that we are, in that moment, witnessing nature in its purest form; a small piece of the world that is not affected by human activity.
The observation of sea turtles is a major source of revenue for businesses operating in Laganas Bay, and generally for the tourism industry, since a large amount of visitors have chosen Zakynthos as a destination where they have the opportunity to witness this wild animal. Operators taking part in turtle spotting should ensure the sustainability of their activities and respect the basic rules that will allow this wildlife watching experience to continue in a positive way for the future.
Zakynthos National Marine Park: http://www.nmp-zak.org (tel .: 26950 29870)
ARCHELON, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece: www.archelon.gr (tel.: 6940454976)