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The Gap Year Blog

Turkey's Turtle Haven

5 Dec 2017 10:05 AM
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This year alone, roughly 500,000 baby turtles made it out to sea after hatching on beaches in Turkey. The Forestry and Waters Affairs Minister claimed that Turkey had the highest number of nesting sites for the endangered Caretta caretta turtles. This means a huge responsibility in protecting the species. 

Current Conditions

Caretta caretta, also known as Loggerhead turtles, are the living descendants of a reptile that lived over 100 million years ago, making them an essential creature in marine ecosystems, and our ecosystem in general. They are a vital, long standing link in upholding the health of coral and grass beds. The WWF promotes education around endangered species and show that in fact, the shells of the turtles are a habitat in themselves. As well as their feeding habits keeping ocean sediments balanced, the shells carry colonies of tiny animals and plants! Needless to say, these animals are amazing and are crucial to the function of our bionetwork. Turkey is also a popular nesting site for Green Turtles and home to Europe’s only known populations of the Nile soft shelled turtle Trionyx triunguis.

Image courtesy of Robbie Veldwijk

However, an all too common threat to these important reptiles is fishing equipment. It became so detrimental that both Caretta caretta and Green turtles were placed on the endangered list. Along with this, in recent years the rise of plastic in the ocean has meant many marine lives have been lost to choking, ingestion of the litter and the toxic chemicals released once the plastics decompose.  For over three decades turtle conservation has been carried out, with particular success in Turkey.

Being a country with a very high number of nesting sites in the world, Turkey has had to prove its commitment to the protection of the endangered sea dwellers. In the early 1970s, many development plans threatened the biodiverse, beautiful beaches but campaigners saw that restrictions were put in. Beaches were not to be built on. Due to this, over the years we have seen increases in hatchling survival and fruitful safeguarding tactics. 

Eco Tourism 

So far, Turkey has had over 30 million visitors this year alone, and the nesting and tourist seasons coincide. Being a popular destination means that Turkey’s beaches are often occupied by tourists, so how are the nesting areas managed? The most well-known site is Iztuzu beach which is renowned for its natural beauty and activities. The beach has strict opening and closing times and restricted areas so that turtles can nestle their eggs in the sand without disturbance. Sunbeds and human activity are banned from nesting sites and extra protection is provided as they are surrounded by fences. Land and sea vehicles are also banned from entering within a one mile radius of the nesting areas.

Image courtesy of kayatokoz

Turkey’s environment relies on the work volunteer organisations such as the Sea Turtle Research Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. Like many of our own marine projects, they provide much needed medical and environmental support as well as carrying out vital surveys for data collection. In addition they use education as tool to stress the importance of the turtles’ protection; tourists are given guided tours and information about the enchanting animals. There is also emphasis on the visitors’ responsibility as some companies still offer a feeding tour which is highly discouraged. The practises on Iztuzu Beach are being recommended across all nesting sites in Turkey. The result of these efforts has been an overall increase in turtle populations worldwide. A huge victory was made when Green turtles were removed from the endangered list and classed as vulnerable instead. This means that although there is still more work to do, progress has been made. 

A Secure Future?

Areas for improvement have been identified as the focus so far has been on monitoring female turtles. Scientists and conservationists have put emphasis on the need to know male to female ratios in order to further understand the current state of the population. It is to ensure that there are enough males to maintain successful reproduction rates. Gaining a clearer idea on the number, condition and habits of male and young turtles will also ensure more effective conservation for the turtles.  Interestingly, during the gestation period, temperature affects the sex of the hatchlings.

Image courtesy of Anna Oates

Lower temperatures lead to more males, but with global temperature on the rise females have taken the lead within the population.  Since a significant amount of male to female ratios are unknown, it becomes difficult to gauge how drastic the gap between the two is since increasing sand temperatures has been tilting  births toward more females. If this trend continues, extinction is a very real possibility. Turkey has introduced clear and enforced methods on managing nesting areas; however it does not mean that all turtles are safe yet. For example, the leatherback turtle in the Eastern and Western Pacific is still considered to be endangered and its numbers are still in decline. Turkey can act as a good example of the cohesive and collaborative work that needs to be done in order for species to be able to survive alongside us. 

As Turkey has demonstrated with its decades of effort, Turtle conservation and the conservation of our planet as a whole is a long term project that needs and deserves our patience if we want to achieve increased survival rates of endangered species.

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

By Hanna-Johara Dokal Online Journalism Intern