Protecting marine turtles and their habitat

2010 News

2nd September 2010 – Green is for “go”

A hatchling emerges from under the tree roots!

A green hatchling emerges from under the tree roots!

Nest 9 on Tunnel Beach was excavated early yesterday.  It was a double success in that it was our first Green nest since 2008 (and the first ever on Tunnel) and it had an excellent outcome.  Some of you may remember that this was our “stealth turtle” that visited the golf course on her first trek up the beach and then came back along the same track two nights later and deviated only slightly to put her nest under a tree.  Thankfully eagle eyed Ruth walked the beach the following morning and spotted it. The nest was very small for a green – possibly indicating that she is quite young.  There were just 79 eggs in it of which 65 hatched successfully (82%) and made it to the sea (9 very healthy hatchlings were found in the nest and immediately released).  Of the remainder 11 were infertile, 1 died in the nest and 2 stopped developing part way through the incubation period. Let’s hope her other one is as good.

The sprint to the sea!

The sprint to the sea!

Unfortunately when we arrived at Long beach to excavate nest 7 we found that somebody had moved the cage sometime after Monday morning.  Despite spending a considerable length of time digging up the beach we were unable to locate the chamber and complete the excavation.  Linda and Frank also broke their sticks on this one so obviously a massive fund raising effort will be required for replacements – it’s not so much the cost of the cane but rather the trip to the witch doctor to get it fully operational!   We will be going back to Long once the wet towels have done their work and we will locate the chamber and excavate the nest.   Since the process may take several hours we will not be making it a public event. We will, however, let you know the outcome.

Made it!

Made it!

We have also been busy been conducting aerial and boat surveys again this week.  On Sunday 115 turtles were spotted from the air.  The majority of these were in the area between Tunnel and the Shrimp farm on Curium.   Most were less than a kilometre offshore which means that most were in 10m of water or less and right in the middle of the fishing zone.   The boat survey focused on the Tunnel/Zapalo area and around 50 turtles were counted – many of them juvenile greens which were grazing on the bottom in depths ranging from 7-12 metres.  We firmly believe that the survey is the most important activity that Turtlewatch has ever undertaken.   It is proving beyond doubt (including to the SBA environment team which was previously ignorant of it) that we do have a significant population off our shores which is not proportionate to our relatively low nesting levels  and which urgently requires proper protection.   Currently our number of turtle deaths stands at a new record high of 27.    Ideally to obtain a comprehensive picture of the population we will need to continue the survey work into winter and as a minimum throughout next year.  We have sufficient funds to cover this year but will need to raise finance for next year (an average flight costs around 70 euro in fuel).  We are researching grant options but since such finance cannot be guaranteed we need your help to make Episkopi Fete a good fundraiser event.  Thanks already to Melissa, Ross and Jim and Di for their support with this.

27th August 2010 – Lone survivor steals the show at Lemmings!

The results of the nests excavated on 27th August are set out below:

Nest Total eggs Total hatchlings Success % Dead Infertile Late stage
4 Long Beach 83 53 64 10 20 0
6 Lemmings W 75 23 31 36 3 13
8 Lemmings E 117 84 72 2 31 0

As you can see, nest 8 proved to be as successful as the first night of hatching witnessed by Karina and Sue suggested it would be.  One live hatchling was also found in during the excavation.  It was in good condition and so was released to walk to the sea and to start its journey around the Mediterranean.  Thanks to Charlie and Daisy for their close supervision of baby Karina!

Volunteers get ready to cheer on the lone survivor at Lemmings!

Volunteers get ready to cheer on the lone survivor at Lemmings!

Unfortunately as we feared nest 6 proved to be a poor nest.  There was evidence that it had been tampered with on several occasions.   It is likely that this caused the roof of the chamber to collapse near the hatching time.  As a result some eggs to stop developing at a very late stage and many hatchlings were unable to get to the surface.

The nest on Long also performed at an acceptable level despite the fact that the hatchlings obviously waited for the folks on night vigils to go home or fall asleep before they put in an appearance!  Apparently (according to Frank) the secret to seeing a nest hatch is to take egg mayonnaise sandwiches and red wine along with you so do take note if you are tackling any of the remaining vigils!  White wine tends to have a reasonable success rate too but is slightly less dependable.

19 August 2010 – Results in for nests 3 and 5

The excavation of nest 3 on Lemmings Beach took place on 13th August.  This nest had been relocated by the SBA environment department two weeks after it had been laid.  Unfortunately the results of the excavation underlined how difficult it is to undertake such relocation successfully once the initial 12 hour period post nesting has passed.  The results revealed that of 80 eggs just 35 hatched successfully and made it to the sea and a further 2 had died in the attempt.  The remaining 43 eggs had all stopped developing at the time of the relocation.

On a happier note nest 5 at Tunnel beach was excavated earlier today.  The nest had produced 54 live hatchlings (3 out on the day) out of a possible 73 eggs (74%) which is a pretty good result.  One egg was infertile and the remainder stopped at a fairly late stage – probably due to lack of oxygen in the chamber.  The bottom of the chamber was on rock so we suspect that she had intended to make a bigger chamber but was thwarted.

4 August – Five in, two out and one on the way!

The last few weeks have been rather eventful! Nests 1 and 2 on Tunnel beach began hatching on 21st July as expected and were excavated on 31 July in front of a small but enthusiastic audience of volunteers.   Thanks to everybody who attended, especially the children all of whom behaved immaculately.  The results were a pleasant surprise to everybody present as people on night vigils had spotted a total of only just over 40 hatchlings for the two nests combined.  In fact 130 hatchlings had actually made it to the sea unaided.  A further ten were excavated from nest 2 and three from nest 1.  All were released to crawl to the sea unaided (although a few did milk the attention).  The detailed results are below:

Nest Total Eggs Live Hatchlings Success% Dead in nest Early stage or infertile Late stage
1 94 58 61.7 3 33 0
2 105 85 80.95 14 6 0
Total 199 143 71.86 17 39 0
31 July excavations 1 and 2

Volunteers will the last hatchling into the sea at Tunnel!

This is a promising start to the season and we hope that the rest of the nests will do as well.  Nest 3 at Lemmings began hatching on 2nd August.  This was a little later than anticipated but allowed the first group of hatchlings to emerge in the presence of three science teachers who also happen to have marine biology degrees.  We don’t doubt that they will be telling their classes all about it.  So far 22 hatchlings have been spotted leaving the nest.  Hopefully there are more to come.  Volunteers will be informed when the excavation will take place. Nests on Tunnel and Long are expected to start hatching within the next 10 days – if you are interested in participating in a night vigil please get in touch.

Meanwhile nesting continues and our total so far for the season is a very respectable

Nest 12 and a very unusually placed egg chamber!

13 with Tunnel again proving to be the favourite venue!  Nest 13 was discovered this morning by Ruth and Nest 12 by Francois on the 1st of the month.  Linda gets to “bag” the rest!!   During our most recent survey flight Tony did spot turtles mating and hence there should be more nests to come.  If you can help fill any beach walking rota gaps please shout up as this seems likely to be a rather long season!

Nets out after 10am. Illegal fishing at Tunnel beach 2nd August.

On a more unfortunate note several more dead turtles have been washed ashore including some which have clearly been killed deliberately.  We now have 23 dead in just 7 months and we are aware that one was also washed ashore at Melanda this week.   Alongside this there appears to have been an upswing in illegal fishing activity in the bay.  We have witnessed and reported several incidents and the customs marine unit has committed to increasing the number of patrols in the area.  We shall continue to press for stronger fishing regulation in the area. Additionally it has been drawn to our attention that the local turtle population was not considered during the Environmental Impact Survey which preceded the approval of the building of a desalination plant in the Kouris delta.  With the help of Terra Cypria and Medasset we are pressing for a review of the decision.  We believe that the plant will go ahead but want to ensure that appropriate plant and procedures are in place to mitigate its side effects on the turtle population.

16th July – Nest 8 laid by sun shy stealth turtle!

Nest 8 in a nice shady spot off Tunnel Beach

We are happy to report that unless something pretty spectacular happens in the next few weeks the “Best nest spot” of the season award most definitely has Ruth’s name on it!  Ruth discovered nest 8 at Tunnel beach earlier this week.  When we say Tunnel Beach we are actually using the term in a very loose sense.  This particular turtle is perhaps hoping for a few sons this year as chose to dig her nest in a nice shady spot in the middle of the trees at the back of the beach.  The temperature of the nest determines the ratio of male to female hatchlings – the hotter the nest the more females you get out of it.  Not content with having us grub around amongst the tree roots however, she also tried to disguise her track by going over one she had made two days earlier when she checked out the golf course instead of laying (well done to Renate for spotting that one).  Fortunately for us she went slightly over the edges in one or two places.  See if you can spot the difference!

Track as seen 10 July

Track as seen 12th July

Unfortunately we do have to report another dead turtle.  This was a female loggerhead which, judging by her broken flippers, had got caught in a fishing net.  More positively, work on the survey is progressing steadily and is producing some interesting data.  Each aerial survey is showing large gatherings off our coastline – one count recorded nearly 100 turtles at or near the surface. The survey results will form a major part of our case for pressing for better fishing regulation off our shores.  Please do your bit to help by filing a sighting report whenever you see a turtle off our coast.  Please encourage other people that you know to do likewise, if necessary fill the form in for them but ensure that they countersign it if possible and provide contact information so that the information can be verified.  There are forms available at Kingsman Cove and the Yacht Club at Tunnel Beach and at the Surf Shack on Lemmings Beach.  It is also available from the volunteer guide section of the website.

4 July 2010 – Nesting Nicely!

Tracks and nest at Long Beach

We are pleased to report that a bout of calmer weather has more than doubled our nest tally.  Well done to Ian and Lynne for getting the ball rolling on the 23rd by finding the first nest of the season on Long Beach.  That should keep Tony happy for a wee while especially since Nick found him a second on 1st July!  Meanwhile Linda’s absence gave Frank the chance to get plenty of exercise trotting along Tunnel to cage a nest there on the 27th.   Fortunately he didn’t overexert himself and was last seen returning to his native Lemmings to repeat the process there the following day!  All three nests are Loggerhead and should hatch towards the middle of August.   We have also now started to get tracks on Curium so fingers crossed we shall get a nest on there too before the season is out.

Unfortunately alongside the good news we have some bad.  Yet more turtle deaths have occurred

Dead Juvenile Green at Curium Beach

in our waters – the most recent having been discovered at Curium yesterday.  We have now recorded 16 deaths this year.  The two most recent were both Green turtles.  One, a sub adult had clearly been deliberately killed.  The SBA police are investigating this and all other deaths in our area.

We are also experiencing problems with people driving cars and go-carting on our beaches and also with groups lighting large bonfires on beaches at night.  Both activities are illegal and both are causing problems for turtles attempting to nest.  If you witness anybody undertaking such activities please contact the SBA police on 25 935620 and if possible take a picture of the offence and email a copy to us.

15 June 2010 – Good news and bad!

Another week of mixed fortunes but generally in our favour for a change!

First the bad news.  A slight calming of the weather allowed us to resume survey duties at the weekend but also brought with it fishing nets and another dead turtle.  This one was a juvenile green.   Thanks to Roger for bringing it in and to Ruth for dealing with it.

Now some good news.  Ruth was very busy this weekend.  Thanks to her efforts two nets were confiscated from a boat fishing in around 3m of water off Curium Beach on Sunday morning.  The police have told her that there will be a prosecution which is extremely good news as we know that the same boat was committing similar offences off Tunnel and Long last year.  We have passed our thanks on to the police.

15 June Nest at Lemmings Surf Shack

Now some more good news.  The dynamic duo of Frank and Tricia found a

nest on Lemmings this morning.   It’s another publicity seeking loggerhead who has parked herself right in front of the Surf Shack.  Expect the offspring to join in the Bay to Bay swim as this is fast becoming an Episkopi Turtlewatch tradition!

Overall we make that 2-1 to the good guys!  Thank you for your help.  Let’s see if we can get a nest on all our beaches this year.

7 June 2010 – Two nests, two more deaths and lots of rubbish!

Tracks to nest 2

The good news is that all our beaches have now had turtles trying to nest on them and on two occasions they have been successful.  Both nests were laid over the weekend on the ever popular Tunnel Beach.  Now if that isn’t an incentive to get your name down on the beach walking rota what is?  Much as Linda loves spotting tracks and nests on her beach she is willing to share the excitement with you – especially as she has to walk her dog for a couple of hours each morning before doing anything on the work or turtle front.

Both the nests are loggerheads and you can spot them about half way along the beach on the Kingsman Cove side. Expect them to hatch in the last week of July.

26 May Trawling over foraging grounds off Long Beach

Less happily Ruth found two dead juvenile Green turtles at Curium Beach this morning.  This brings our total number of dead to at least 13 so far this year.  This is almost double the figure at the same stage last year and it is a new record for the third year in a row that we do not want.  The fact that the deaths are caused by often illegal fishing activity is not in dispute.  If you have not signed our online petition please do so and encourage your friends and family to do likewise.  Also feel free to write to your MP to urge for better protection for our turtles from fishing activity.

3 June Long Beach. Turtlewatch in action

3 June Long Beach. Turtlewatch in action!

A big thank you is due to all of you who took several bin bags down to the beaches with you on  your walks last week when a massive influx of rubbish descended on three of our beaches.  Thanks in particular to Frank and Gail for Lemmings and Tony and Bryan for their efforts on Lemmings and Long.  Unfortunately, we know from our aerial survey that there is still more rubbish to come but at least we are know in a position where hopefully we can keep on top of it.

29 May 2010 – Greening of Curium

She may be Green but she knows how to pile rubbish!

Thanks to everybody who took part in Saturday’s clean.  It was a tough job carried out with a great deal of humour and it was great to see so many people from the Young Cyprus Greens take part .  Many people actually travelled from Nicosia to help.  Thanks in particular to Mixalis and Natalie from the Young Greens for such great organisation and their kind offer to enlist their volunteers to team up with us  for cleaning the beaches next year too!

The following is a press release about the event which will be featured in both local and international media in the coming weeks and months.

Cyprus Young Greens and Episkopi Turtlewatch join forces to “Clean up the Med”.

A certain sense of deja vu!

Deja vu anybody?

29th May saw two popular local volunteer organisations linking up with hundreds of thousands of participants across Europe as part of the 2010 “Clean up the Med” weekend.  Volunteers from Cyprus Young Greens and Episkopi Turtlewatch met at 9 am at Curium Beach and armed with bags, gloves and pickup trucks proceeded to remove many tonnes of debris from the shoreline.

Working in unison the volunteers covered several kilometres of coastline and proved that people of all ages and nationalities who live in Cyprus care about its’ marine environment.  This section of beach was selected because it bridges the main turtle nesting areas at Episkopi and Akrotiri and acts as a collecting point for rubbish thrown up by the sea during stormy weather.   Debris washing into the sea in this bay can pose a significant threat to the turtles which are gathered in the area to feed, mate and nest.  Discarded fishing equipment and industrial rubbish from local commercial concerns threaten turtles with entanglement whilst plastic bags and similar trash can be mistaken for a food source.   Significant quantities of both were removed by the volunteers along with some rather more unusual items such as ironing boards, clothes and discarded television sets.  This is the second clean undertaken in as many months by Episkopi Turtlewatch at this beach and it is extremely grateful both for the strong support which Cyprus Young Greens were able to provide on the day and for the general support that it has given the group in the past six months.

Bags I get to keep the ironing board!

Who nicked the ironing board?

A spokesperson for Episkopi Turtlewatch commended the strenuous efforts of the volunteers to make the bay a safer place for turtles but noted that currently most turtle deaths in the area are linked to fishing interaction and in fact many are deliberate killings.  In the period since 1 January 2008 some 61 dead turtles have been washed ashore on Episkopi beaches alone.  Prior to this period the normal casualty level was a maximum of four or five per year.   Sadly, the observation was illustrated by the discovery during the clean of a dead adult female loggerhead with flippers torn trying to escape from fishing net.  The following day a dead juvenile green turtle was also discovered with flippers severely torn.

There are estimated to be just 600 adult female green turtles and 6000 adult female loggerhead turtles in the entire Mediterranean.  Both are endangered species and both play a positive role in maintaining clean and healthy seas.  Episkopi Turtlewatch regards cleanup activities as being important for the welfare of the turtle population.  However, without the SBA providing real rather than verbal protection for the turtles and their feeding sites the group can have no hope of halting what is rapidly becoming a terminal decline in the local turtle stock without which we will all be the poorer.

1 May 2010 – A sea of turtles

24th April - Thanks to Roger Cope

Thanks to everybody who has called in to report turtle sightings over the past two weeks.  Several of you have reported seeing adult turtles strung out in the area between Tunnel and Pissouri.  One lucky kite surfer also spotted five large juveniles just 200m out from Lemmings.  As you can see we have had some excellent photographs sent in which we will share with you at regular intervals on our flickr site.

We are keeping a record of all sightings reported to in order to build up a picture of where the turtles are at a particular time of day and at each stage of the season.   We believe that this will highlight which areas of the sea should be targeted for special protection measures.  It would help us if whenever you spot one or more turtles in the Episkopi area you would fill in a sighting form.  There are stacks of these available in the club houses on both Tunnel and Lemmings beaches.  Just fill one in and we will collect it from the club.  Alternatively you can download a form on the “Volunteer guides” page and email it to us.  Please try to give specific details, for example if you see several turtles try to give us an estimate of the number rather than simply saying “lots”.

Finally, please remember that the turtles are here to mate and to feed.  If you are lucky enough to see them when you are out on the water observe passively and try not to disturb them.

10th April – A busy week over and has anybody seen either turtles or our bikes?

Easter came early this year catapulting us into action a few weeks ahead of our “norm”.

Tuesday 6th saw Linda and David giving a presentation to and being made very welcome by the International Women’s Association in Limassol.  At the end of a very enjoyable evening the ladies also produced a surprise €40 donation to help towards our research costs.  Thank you ladies!

Cadets and turtlewatchers take a well earned break!

Thanks also are due to all of you who braved some unusually poor weather conditions to help out with cleaning up Curium Beach on Thursday 8th April.  A special mention goes to Essex Army Cadet Force which acted as the catalyst for the clean by volunteering to donate a day of their short time on Cyprus to help us out and also to Tony and Jamie who were kept extremely busy ferrying bags to the central collection point.  Once again many hands produced many full rubbish sacks – so much so that Episkopi Council was forced to make a return trip the following day to ensure that everything that we collected was removed!   Unusual finds this year included some live ammunition and unfortunately a small dead turtle – no direct link there just in case you were wondering! The clean was followed by another excellent meal at the St Ermogenis Taverna and a brief talk about Turtlewatch.   Thanks go to Ruth for arranging that.

The week ended with a stall at the Episkopi Spring Fete giving us the opportunity to explain our plans for the coming season and to sign up a few new members.  Thank you to everybody who helped out on the day.

During the week we have also started to receive reports of turtle sightings from you.  Keep them coming in please!  We need to know date, time and location plus approximate size and species if known.  If you can get a picture too that would help.  Please also ask family and friends to get involved.

There was one slight sour point in the week when we discovered that the Turtlewatch lock up where we store our equipment had been broken into for the third time in less than a year.  Usually nothing is stolen but this time thieves took away two privately owned bicycles used by the co-ordinators to access the Happy Valley beaches.  The bikes are Carrera mountain bikes.  They are blue and silver and one has purple extensions to the handlebars.  A ladies gel saddle was also stolen.  The theft has been reported to the SBA police so if you think that you have seen the bikes or have information about the break in please contact them!

Winter 2009/10 – Turtlewatch goes international with Cyprus Airways!

You may recall us telling you that volunteer and journalist Melissa Reynolds had submitted an article about our work to “Sunjet” the Cyprus Airways in-flight magazine.  The article was featured in the winter edition and read by many international travellers.  Melissa has also volunteered to donate a €150 fee she received for the photographs used to us and so a big thank you to her is merited on several levels.  The article can be read by clicking on the link below.

Cyprus airways Sunjet magazine article