The 2021 Zakynthos report
Laganas bay, Zakynthos hosts one of the largest reproductive populations of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Mediterranean. The National Marine Park of Zakynthos, established in 1999, includes sea turtle habitats within an Absolute Protection site with no human visitation (Sekania beach and surroundings), and five Nature Protection sites with restrictions/regulations of human use (Gerakas beach, Dafni beach, Kalamaki- East Laganas beach, Marathonissi islet beach and the marine waters of Laganas Bay).
Were the sea turtles safe during their nesting on Zakynthos in 2021? Marine biologist Nikoletta Sidiropoulou, the Project Officer of ARCHELON, replies: “The continued presence of the Management Agency of the Park and ARCHELON on site has ensured sea turtle monitoring and nest protection for one more year. More than 1,300 loggerhead nests were recorded and protected by ARCHELON in Laganas Bay in collaboration with the Marine Park in 2021”. Guards/patrols and cordoning-off of the nesting zone were implemented by the Park, while WWF Greece operated the fire prevention observatory on the land behind Sekania beach.
ARCHELON has been carrying out systematic monitoring and conservation work in Laganas Bay every year since 1984. The field leaders of the 2021 season were Lena-Marie Holtorf and Dimitris Kyridis (Monitoring Coordinators), Hugo Baron and Lisbeth Wolf (Monitoring Leaders), Jessica Niehoff (Public awareness Leader), Panagiotis Georgiou (Camp and Volunteer Coordinator).
One of the interesting issues discussed in the Zakynthos report of 2021 is that, after the establishment of the Park, the nesting contribution of the individual beaches has changed. Analysis of nesting data of previous years shows in particular that the average contribution of Sekania beach decreased with an equivalent increase of nesting contribution on the beaches of East Laganas, Kalamaki and Gerakas. This long-term change is probably attributed to better protection measures (wardening, cordoning-off of the nesting zone, management of beach equipment) implemented gradually by the Management Agency of the Marine Park as well as by the local businesses on these beaches. However, a significant decrease in numbers of nests has been observed on the beaches of Marathonissi and Dafni during the last years, which is related to disturbances of sea turtles by boats in the marine area of the bay and uncontrolled human pressure respectively.
The report acknowledges that Zakynthos island has become a top international tourism destination during recent years. However, there is a noted disrespect and disregard to environmental legislation in Laganas Bay, especially to nature conservation regulations at sea and on the nesting beaches by local authorities and local operators.
“There is an extremely high number of licensed vessels operating in the Bay in recent years and this issue has not been regulated as yet. For one more season, many boats were surrounding the sea turtles to enjoy the sight of them and, more often than not, the Turtle Spotting Guidelines were not observed” says Panagiota Theodorou, Coordinator for Legal and Statutory issues in ARCHELON. “Fisheries and speed boats are responsible for many accidents with sea turtles. Out of 50 sea turtle stranding incidents (45 dead and 5 injured/sick), recorded so far in Zakynthos this year, 21 were located within the marine protected area of Laganas Bay” she adds.
Unfortunately, the interest of local businesses, landowners, and local authorities to collaborate for better law enforcement in the Marine Park seems to be quite low. As a result, there were several violations regarding the exceeding numbers of beach furniture and their non-removal at night, incidents of human presence at nighttime on the beach, of human trampling over nests, of driving vehicles and horse riding on the beach.
Additionally, long term threats due to illegal activities, which were identified in previous years, continued to exist. These include the old sanitary landfill, the illegal road between the beaches of Dafni and Gerakas, buildings at Gerakas and buildings/ businesses at Dafni. Local authorities have not implemented existing administrative decisions for the demolition of these illegal constructions.
ARCHELON carried out public awareness activities on the beaches, in tourist facilities and, during the period August – September, at the information kiosk in Zakynthos town. However more needs to be done. The scale of visitation to the beaches and the marine area in Laganas Bay has grown in recent years. The reluctance to observe environmental legislation displayed by local authorities and local operators calls for a much bigger communication/ information/ awareness effort towards local operators, the authorities and visitors.
The report concludes that a collaborative approach in improving the legal regulation of management practices and a more effective surveillance of the beaches and the marine area are urgently needed to ensure the conservation of loggerheads in this very important habitat in the Mediterranean.
ARCHELON wishes to thank the volunteers and field leaders of the 2021 season for carrying out the monitoring and public awareness activities, as well as everybody else who contributed to the effective conservation of sea turtles in Zakynthos.
The 2021 Zakynthos report can be downloaded here.