A record number of over 700 sea turtles died in Greece in 2020, according to a report published by ARCHELON, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, in early April.
The non-profit, which was founded in 1983 to promote the conservation of the delicate sea turtle species Caretta Caretta, or loggerhead sea turtle, in Greece, collected all reports of dead turtles from the Greek Coast Guard in 2020, which numbered over 700.
This is the highest number recorded since ARCHELON formed the Stranding Network in 1992, which locates the deceased marine reptiles and studies their cause of death.
Typically, ARCHELON receives a range of 500 to 600 reports of deceased loggerheads in Greece each year.
They stress, however, that the actual number of dead turtles may be even higher, as Greece has over 17,000 km of shoreline, including many areas that are inaccessible to humans.
Plastic waste, fishing gear top dangers for sea turtles in Greece
Plastic pollution and the accidental catching of the delicate sea turtles currently pose the biggest threat to the endangered species, ARCHELON expressed in a statement.
The majority of the dead sea turtles had either consumed plastic waste or had been trapped in fishing gear, leading to their death.
Plastic waste is particularly dangerous to sea turtles, as it is hard for them to distinguish the plastic from their natural prey.
Fishermen often accidentally catch the loggerhead turtles in their nets or long lines, and often can’t free them from the gear in time to save the precious reptiles.
In many other cases, however, it is difficult to pinpoint the cause of death exactly, and due to tides, it can be nearly impossible to locate where exactly the turtles died.
International body warned of lack of protection for Loggerheads in Greece
Some of the most important sea turtle habitats in the Mediterranean, located in Greece and Cyprus, “remain unprotected,” the Bern Convention warned in an alarming press release in December of 2020.
The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats is an international body that covers nature conservation in Europe and North Africa.
MEDASSET, an international NGO tasked with helping save sea turtles in the Mediterranean, was the first to express such concerns, arguing that crucial sea turtle nesting beaches in Greece and Cyprus, specifically Laganas Bay in Zakynthos, Southern Kyparissia Bay in the Peloponnese, and the beaches of Akamas and Limni in Cyprus, were not adequately protected.
The NGO argued that the Greek government had failed to ensure that Laganas Bay, a National Marine Park since 1999, is safe for the substantial loggerhead sea turtle population that nests there.
Unregulated maritime activity, illegal construction, and the operation of illegal businesses in Laganas Bay, one of the most important loggerhead sea turtle habitats in Greece, pose an incredible risk to the at-risk female turtles which depend on the beach as a safe place to lay their eggs every year.
Light pollution, illegal buildings, and nearshore fishing, all potentially destructive to the endangered reptiles, were recorded at Kyparissia Bay in the Peloponnese, home to one of the largest reproductive populations of loggerhead turtles in all of the Mediterranean.
Additionally, the destruction of dunes, where sea turtles nest, was witnessed at the beach.
These issues — especially that of light pollution — were meant to be resolved in 2018 at the passing of a protective law in Greece, according to MEDASSET Officer Nadia Andreanidou; yet they still persist across the country.