The endangered loggerhead turtles use Turkey’s western Mediterranean coast as one of their main nesting areas, laying eggs there before returning to the sea. [Photo/PIXNIO PHOTO]
The declining number of travelers to Turkey’s golden beaches is a misfortune for the nation’s economy but a relief for loggerhead sea turtles.
Loggerhead turtles are an endangered species that uses Turkey’s western Mediterranean coast as one of their main nesting areas, laying eggs there before returning to the sea.
The shores and water are cleaner and safer today, since the global health crisis has prevented millions of tourists from traveling to Turkey this year. This enables the turtles to lay their eggs in peace on mostly empty beaches.
Animal activists are happy that these protected creatures can breed freely. Each year, during hatching season, dozens of animal lovers and activists flock to the nesting grounds to protect the hatchlings from humans.
Artificial lights from hotels or other tourism establishments are very dangerous to the newborns, and may disorient them and ultimately cause their deaths.
Hatchlings orient themselves toward the sea using the brightness of the horizon and the reflection of the moon on the water’s surface.
Ecological Research Association president and Hacettepe University biology instructor Ali Fuat Canbolat says the tourism season opened late this year, in early July, because of the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown restrictions.
“As 95 percent of hotels were closed in the southern provinces, the loggerhead sea turtles were not disturbed by artificial lights. They prefer not to lay their eggs where the lights are too bright,” he says.
This year, his association detected over 3,000 nesting grounds, a record number, on the beaches of Belek district in Antalya province, which has dozens of luxury hotels.
“The previous highest number was around 2,600 in 2016. So, we can say that the turtles were a bit more comfortable this year,” he says, adding that they lay eggs every three to four years.
“When they do, they may nest three to four times a season.”
Loggerhead sea turtles are migratory and spend the winter in the Aegean and other seas, including the Adriatic.
Several associations, including EKAD, have for years worked with general success to increase awareness about this endangered species, Canbolat explains.
Yet, he insists local administrations still have a long way to go as they sometimes consider the turtles’ presence a “nuisance “to development projects.
Turkish first lady Emine Erdogan made an appearance earlier this month on an Antalya beach in Kas district with government ministers to release injured turtles back to the sea.
The turtles had received treatment for injuries inflicted by boat propellers.
“The turtles are one of the oldest inhabitants on the Earth. Unfortunately, they face the danger of extinction. We need to help their survival because they are essential for the ecosystem,” she said on the occasion, the semi-official Anadolu Agency reports.
The turtles were fitted with tracking chips so scientists can monitor their journeys and the dangers they encounter.
“Only a few out of a thousand hatchlings survive to become an adult, and that takes up to 15 years at least. So, this animal is a feat of nature that should be protected,” she adds.