Heroic Volunteers Spend Night and Day Saving Baby Sea Turtles
Every summer, hundreds of endangered sea turtles hatch on the beaches of Cyprus. Enviromentalists estimate that the island is the site for more than 30 percent of the nests of loggerhead turtles (caretta caretta) and more than 20 percent of those of the green turtle (chelonia mydas).
Only one out of every thousand turtles that hatches makes it into adulthood. Organizations like the Society for Protection of Turtles (SPOT) are seeking to increase those numbers by making sure that more baby turtles make it into the ocean, says AFP via Raw Story:
Not all the babies had the same strength. Some set out energetically for the Mediterranean sea, others lay motionless until the waves snatched them away.
At night, baby turtles know their way thanks to the moonís reflection on the sea. When there is no moon, they are guided by the torch of a volunteer standing waist-deep in the sea.
Members of SPOT and other conservationist groups also place metal grids over nests after mother turtles lay their eggs, as protection from foxes and other predators; otherwise, some 60 percent of the eggs would be eaten. These efforts to protect the beaches where the turtles nest have led to what environmentalist Andreas Demetropoulos says is a veritable “explosion” in the turtle population on Cyprus alone of places in the Mediterranean.
South Cyprus, North Cyprus and the Dangers of Development
Demetropoulos is from south Cyprus.†After being under the Ottoman Empire’s control for three centuries and becoming a British protectorate in 1878, Cyprus was granted independence in 1960. †But the†island has been divided since 1974, when troops from Turkey invaded the north after clashes between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots occurred and Greek Cypriot nationalists and the Greek military junta attempted to take control of the island.
After this, Cyprus was partitioned, with about 59 percent of it now under the Republic of Cyprus and 36 percent part of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only recognized by Turkey.
Cyprus is a popular tourist destination for Europeans; South Cyprus is now more affluent and became a member of the euro zone in 2008. As Hasibe Kuset-Oglu, an environmentalist from northern Cyprus, points out, being less prosperous economically has been to the sea turtles’ advantage, as developers have been less interested in undertaking construction and bringing in heavy tourism.
Nonetheless, activists on both parts of the island have been pressuring politicians to limit development and to protect the beaches where the turtles lay their eggs. Since 1971, the turtles in the south have been protected by government regulations; such efforts have arisen more slowly in the north.
Cyprus’ Economy Needs the Turtles More Than Ever
Over the summer, Cyprus (one of the smallest euro zone nations) found itself joining Portugal, Ireland and Greece in requesting a bailout from the European Union to save its banks, which reported huge losses due to exposure to the debt crisis in Greece. The “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank are seeking stringent austerity measures, including a†15 percent cut in the state payroll by the end of 2013 and a 10 percent cut in benefits.
Cyprus’ President Demetris Christofias has inveighed against the “greed and mistakes of bankers and mistakes in supervision.” The government noted that “we want to take these decisions in a manner which does not unfairly burden workers and ordinary people who are in no way to blame for this situation.” Cyprus has been considering taking up long-time ally Russia’s offer of a 5 billion euro loan.
In such circumstances, it seems that tourism can only become more important to shore up Cyprus’ ailing economy. As†AFP notes, tourists are thrilled to see the hatching of the baby turtles, but will the island country keep their habitat safe as it seeks to pull itself out of an economic crisis?
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Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov