Protecting marine turtles and their habitat

What we do

What does Episkopi Turtlewatch do?

The principal activities undertaken by our volunteers are:
1. Beach cleaning
2. Early morning beach patrols
3. Night time hatching vigils
4. Dealing with dead and injured turtles
5. Raising public awareness

Some volunteers will participate in all activities, others in just one or two. Whatever time and help people can give is appreciated!

1. Beach cleaning

Turtle drowned after becoming trapped in beach chair

Turtle drowned after becoming trapped in beach chair

All our beaches are located around Episkopi bay. The beaches are used extensively by locals and tourists alike and the bay is popular with both commercial and amateur fishermen. In addition to this the bay is close to the heavily used shipping port of Limassol. These factors, combined with the fact that the area suffers severe storms in winter, result in a large accumulation of rubbish being washed ashore and into shallow water during the winter period. The rubbish not only creates obstacles for turtles seeking to come ashore and nest, it can also be life threatening to them. Old fishing gear and nets and pieces of furniture can entrap swimming turtles and prevent them coming to the surface to breathe. Every year during April and May we carry out major clean ups on all our beaches. Volunteers then help to maintain them throughout the nesting season into late autumn.

2. Early morning beach patrols

Typical loggerhead track

Typical loggerhead track

This is probably the most important activity undertaken by our volunteers. Every morning during the nesting and hatching season each of our beaches is walked by a volunteer who checks for signs of turtle tracks made the night before. Such tracks will sometimes (although not always) lead to a nest. When we do find a nest we cage it to protect it from foxes and dogs and place a bilingual sign near it to prevent human interference. The patrol takes place in the early morning rather than at night because the presence of humans on the beach is likely to deter a turtle from coming ashore and nesting. The patrol rota usually runs from 1 June to mid September and volunteers choose the beaches and days that they prefer to walk and also the frequency of their walks. Some people may walk as little as once per month; others may walk once or twice per week. During the walks volunteers also collect any small litter items that they see and check existing nests for signs of disturbance or possible hatching.

3. Night time hatching vigils

Loggerhead hatchling heading into the sea

Loggerhead hatchling heading into the sea

Approximately seven weeks after laying the nests will begin to hatch. The exact period depends upon a variety of factors including the time of season when the nest was laid, the sand type on the beach and the position on the beach. Hatching normally takes place over several nights and during this period the nest will be observed by our volunteers on a rota basis. In nature a hatchling will find its way to the sea by following the brightest light on the horizon – normally light reflecting on the sea. In the modern world, however, artificial lights such as lamp posts, restaurant signs and lights and car headlights can sometimes outshine natural light and disorient the hatchling so that it wanders in the wrong direction. This can result in exhaustion, dehydration and probable death. The role of the volunteers on the night vigil is to intervene if such disorientation appears likely and ensure that all emerging hatchlings actually head for and reach the sea. After several nights of hatching the nests are excavated. The purpose of the excavation is to obtain statistics about the relative success of the nest. This information is passed to the Cyprus Fisheries Department and to the SBA Environmental Department and is collated with both national and regional data so that the successfulness of existing conservation programmes can be analysed.

4. Dealing with dead and injured turtles

Turtle with flipper injury caused by boat traffic impact.

Turtle with flipper injury caused by boat traffic impact.

Unfortunately this is a role which has increased significantly in the past two years. It is important that information on deaths and injuries is recorded and collated across the Mediterranean in order to identify causes and trends that require remedial action. Our volunteers record the necessary data and communicate it to the Cyprus Fisheries Department and the SBA Environmental Department allowing it to be collated with both local and regional data. We also arrange for the treatment of injured turtles. They often become the victim of jet skis, boat propellers and fishing tackle. It is important that they receive prompt attention.

5. Raising public awareness

Display stand at Episkopi Summer Fete

Display stand at Episkopi Summer Fete

In current times the biggest threat to the long term survival of our turtles is harmful human behaviour. In our experience the harm often occurs because of ignorance rather than because of intent. We therefore believe that public education is an essential part of any conservation strategy. To this end our volunteers become involved in a wide variety of educational activities. These include activities such as:
• manning of information stands at a variety of public events;
• production and distribution of educational media via commercial and social outlets;
• public talks to groups such as schools, police, fishermen and ‘ hobby’ societies;
• teaching a PADI recognised turtle conservation course;
• communicating regularly with local and international media, and
• building and maintaining our website.