North Cyprus Turtles
The wonderful beaches of Northern Cyprus are not only enjoyed by people; many of them have long been used as nesting sites for rare species of marine turtles and the island offers many opportunities to watch these magnificent creatures. There are seven types of marine turtle around the world, but only two species are found here, the loggerhead (caretta caretta) and the green turtle (chelonian mydas). Both are on the endangered list and are protected. All the main nesting sites are in conservation areas, where unaccompanied tourists are not allowed entry during the laying and hatching seasons. Not to worry though, as there are plenty of other wonderful beaches here and it is also possible to go on arranged trips to see the hatching or laying. It is not uncommon for some turtles to nest on other beaches, especially in the quieter areas of the Karpaz Peninsula, so it is important to take care not to disturb a nesting site should you come across one.
The Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT) was established in Northern Cyprus in the late 1980s and has a keen and active membership. They have a small centre at Alagadi Beach, to the east of Kyrenia, and students from all around the world come here in the summer season to staff the premises and carry out surveys and conservation work. They arrange regular night-time visits to the nesting sites, and watching a hatching, with the tiny turtles instinctively making their way to the sea, is a truly magical and memorable experience. The ‘Goat Shed’, as the SPOT headquarters is affectionately known, is normally staffed from the beginning of June to the middle of September during the day and early evening. You will need to visit the premises to book any watching activities and it is advisable to do this as soon as possible during your stay, because numbers are strictly limited to avoid disturbance to the turtles.
Under the supervision of the Marine Turtle Conservation Project and the North Cyprus Department for Environmental protection, the society takes small parties to the beach to watch nesting. This is usually from the beginning of June to the end of July and at night. Of course, there is no guarantee that any females will come ashore on any particular night, but because the beach is protected, the creatures seem happy to lay here and on most nights there will be some activity. Between late July and mid-September, nest excavations and releases are carried out, again at night. Excavations ensure that as many as possible of the hatchlings are released from the eggs, as sometimes they are laid too deeply to be able to dig themselves out on their own. After checking them, they are released to make their way to the sea. Both these events are usually open to very small numbers of visitors and again, you will need to visit to make suitable arrangements, but to many people who have witnessed it, there is something unique and genuinely moving about the experience.
Thanks to the efforts of the protection society and other similar organisations, numbers are at worst stable and at best, increasing. The government of Northern Cyprus is fully aware of the importance of the turtles and the loggerhead is actually the symbol of North Cyprus tourism. However, due mainly to predators both on land and at sea, it is a startling estimate that out of a thousand eggs laid, only one turtle will reach maturity. Those that do, have an expected life that can be well over thirty years though. If you are interested in scuba diving, or even just snorkelling, then at many times of the year you may well encounter adult turtles in the area. They are placid and inquisitive, and magnificent to swim with, but don’t be tempted to try and offer food, as they have enormously powerful jaws! If you would like to learn more about these precious creatures, visit the SPOT website at www.cyprusturtles.org for more information.