14/08/2009

ARCHELON's volunteers in Crete strive for the viability of Caretta caretta population

The increased human presence and activities, particularly the uncontrolled tourism development, pose the greatest threats Caretta caretta nesting habitats face and the greatest challenges to their survival. Against these, in Crete ARCHELON have been, for a long time now, combined forces with hundreds of volunteers from around the world in an on-going effort to protect as many nests as possible and enable as many hatchlings as possible to find their way to the sea.

Following the research primarily conducted between 1989 and 1990 recording the first definite observations of nesting activity, ARCHELON counted an important number of nests along the shore in certain areas in Crete.

In total, we patrol 30 km stretch of beach on a daily basis during the whole nesting period. Based on the data gathered from 1990 until 1998, the beach in Rethymno has an average of 385 nests, Chania 116 and Messara 58. That is approximately 600 nests while there is an estimate of 37.000 hatchlings reaching the sea each year. Unfortunately though each year this number is declining continually!! Our program in Crete includes 3 Research Field Stations at Chania, Rethmno and Messara. They are our bases; there live the volunteers doing field work, which is conducted in situ, implementing measures and techniques for the protection of the nests along with a large portion of the public awareness plan, informing the beach users, etc.

Because of the effects of the expanding human interference and the natural risks, we carry out several protection measures on all nesting grounds in Crete. Every nest marked during the morning patrol of the beach is inspected for the suitability of its place. If itʼs considered itʼs apparently safe from flooding or destruction or any other form of human activity (for instance, nest isnʼt next to sea-umbrellas or chairs), we only put a protective cage around it. The cage is useful to locate and identify the nest and protect it from any accidental damage by the beach-users. Only those nests which are to be affected are relocated in a secure setting or placed into an incubator.

The incubators are designated relocation areas, fenced nurseries, where the eggs are placed again until they hatch. The hatchlings success rate is rather high in the incubators which also have an additional beneficial result as they attract beach-users interest.

One of the most critical acts a sea turtle must perform takes place immediately after it views the world for the first time as a hatchling. Under natural conditions, hatchling sea turtles that have just emerged from the sand, crawl in a frenzy directly from nest to sea. Since newly-hatched baby sea turtles find their way to the water by crawling towards the brightest horizon, they can become disoriented and confused by artificial lighting on developed stretches of coastline.

However if that is not possible, ARCHELON volunteers place light shields around the nests to prevent hatchling disorientation. The shields are made from materials as sand and straw mats and are placed lower than 20 cm in such as way as to create a short path to the sea.

This type of intervention reduces significantly the mortality of hatchlings due to light pollution, as it can prevent lights from shining on the beach and confusing them.

At last, letʼs hope our volunteersʼ efforts will again meet with success and this year more hatchings will find the sea. (TBP/ES)

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