|It¢s a fact that numerous peaceful and sandy beaches, which the sea turtles choose to nest for centuries now, are at the moment amongst the most popular touristic destinations. The populations of sea turtles at those areas are under serious reduction, as the excessive tourism development in the areas of reproduction causes significant degradation of the beaches as well as alters the natural ecosystem which is essential for survival. A representative example is the island of Crete where is hosted a remarkable percentage of the Caretta Caretta sea turtles¢ population, which has still remained in the Mediterranean. This population is significantly decreased over the years and is found mainly at the east coast of Rethymno, the west coast of Chania and Messara Bay, where touristic activities are highly developed.|
Unavoidably, the relationship between tourism and sea turtles can be considered competitive, at least at first level. Nevertheless, tourism and sea turtles can become allies and coexist harmoniously, if followed economic solutions, based on simple rules for the activities along the coasts, as the following:
1. Light pollution
The artificial lighting, which is very frequent in Crete, disorients the hatchlings, leading them in the opposite direction from the sea, while preventing the female turtles from nesting. The proper management of private and community sources of light, could be achieved by placing luminaries in a way which ensures that it is not visible from the beach. One way is to use appropriate lightning (for example using low height poles, equipped where demanded with light direction shutters can provide an ideal way to keep the light close to the ground, while minimizing the leakage). Alternatively, at the already existing light fixtures could be used especially discs, which prevent the diffusion of light on the beach (use of foil or galvanized steel or painting the side that "sees" at the beach).
2. Marine Furniture
The existence of a large number of marine furniture (eg. umbrellas, water sports) on the nesting beaches, both reduces the space of beach available for spawning, whilst acting as an obstacle to the access of female turtles seeking to nest. The management measures that can be taken in this case are the removal of furniture outside the marine sandy beach before sunset, where the sea turtles are nesting. Moreover, the reduction of the access of sea turtles on the beach can be achieved by placing umbrellas and lounge chairs at fixed points and axes perpendicular to the wave.
3. Coastal structures
Coastal structures (protective walls, buildings, recreational facilities, sand extraction), have caused serious deterioration in the physical characteristics of the coastal zone and long-term erosion of the beaches in Crete. The destruction of the sand dunes (located on the back of the beach) from coastal construction leads to the gradual erosion and thus the disappearance of the beaches where these natural ecosystems function as natural reservoirs and sediment on the merits "reconstruct" the sand systems . For this reason, the construction of buildings is recommended to be at at least 100 meters from the beach to protect both nesting beaches and the buildings, which are at risk anyway from the gradual erosion.
4. Heavy vehicles
The cleaning of the beaches with the use of heavy vehicles (from litter, algae) is usually made prior to the start or after the nesting season (1/5-31/10). However many times, this cleaning is performed within the laying season. The beach cleaning vehicles compress the sand so that the female turtles cannot dig to lay their eggs and the hatchlings cannot reach the surface of the sand, having as a result to get trapped and die. Moreover, they can destroy the nests which are placed in a 20-40 cm depth (by breaking the eggs). The manual cleaning during the nesting season, as well as placing a sufficient number of waste bins and regular garbage collection, shall ensure the cleanliness of the coast, without making any alterations on it.
5. Increased human presence
The increased touristic use of nesting beaches can result in negative impacts on the turtles that nest as well as in emerging eggs and nestlings. Disturbance, especially during the night, such as pedestrian traffic, fires, use of photographic lenses and flash, beach parties can disorient the hatchlings and prevent the females from nesting. Consequently, it is recommended to avoid intense use of nesting beaches by humans, which can be achieved by informing them about the turtle and its delicate nature during spawning. So In accordance with the above it is obvious that the adoption of solutions which are based on a steady and determined effort to create a sensitive and responsible policy and social process, can lead to the coexistence of tourism and the sea turtles. With the active participation of the local authorities, the local people, the business people and tourists, can be achieved the rescuing and preservation of the marine population, while the presence of sea turtles can help in the promotion of tourism and encourage the awareness and enrichment of the experiences of the visitors holidaymakers.
Regina Stefanatou, Crete Program Coordinator (translation: Nadia Toumpaniari)
- Eckert K. (Volume II): «How Tourism, Tourists, and Coastal Residents Can Be Stewards of the Sea Turtles», SWOT REPORT, the State of the World¢s Sea Turtles, p. 36
- Charles Irvine (1998): «Management Policies for the Conservation of the Nesting Habitats of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) on the island of Crete», prepared for The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece under the auspices of E.U. Life Project LIFE/GR/A22/GR/01115/KRI
- Margaritoulis D., Panagopoulou A. (2010): Sea Turtles in the Mediterranean. Distribution, Threats and Conservation Priorities, IUCN p. 85-112