Conservationists have warned that sea turtles in Greece and the wider Mediterranean region are an endangered species. Specifically, the loggerhead sea turtle, also known as the Caretta caretta, is under threat.
The warning was given by the Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles (MEDASSET) at the 42nd meeting of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention (Council of Europe). It was held in Strasbourg between November 28th and December 2, 2022.
MEDASSET is worried that not enough is being done to protect the habitats and nesting grounds of sea turtles in Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.
Sea turtle nesting grounds
Greece is home to several essential breeding grounds and nesting areas for sea turtles. The country hosts approximately forty percent of loggerhead nests in the Mediterranean. The southern part of Kyparissia Bay in the Peloponnese and Laganas Bay in Zakynthos have been identified as the most important nesting habitats.
Laganas Bay hosts an annual average of 1,200 nests while in Kyparissia Bay that number is approximately 3,000. Despite the paramount importance of these bays to marine ecosystems, MEDASSET has warned that inadequate steps have been taken to safeguard wildlife there.
Both bays are part of the protected Natura 2000 network. Natura 2000 consists of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas designated under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive, respectively.
Despite these designations, no actual management plans are in place for them. The Bern Convention, together with the environmental organizations that work for the protection of sea turtles in Greece, have persistently petitioned for plans to be put in place, as these could help to better safeguard endangered species.
Inadequate protection for endangered species
MEDSSET has conducted on-location appraisals on Zakynthos and at Southern Laganas Bay to better determine what might be done to safeguard the sea turtles there.
According to the organization, a multitude of infringements are disrupting nesting areas. These include illegal constructions and commercial enterprises along the shoreline, uncontrolled activities at sea, a lack of monitoring, the cultivation of non-indigenous species, and vehicular access to beaches.
MEDASSET is concerned that not enough is being done to curb these activities. For example, unlawful roads were constructed between Dafni Beach and Gerakas Beach within the boundaries of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos.
However, the perpetrators received symbolic fines at best. An initial fine of €200,000 was later dropped substantially to €10,000. MEDASSET and WWF are presently challenging this decision with legal action.
This is not the first time Greece has come under fire for its failure to adequately protect endangered species such as sea turtles. In 2021, the European Court of Justice voted to condemn Greece’s failure to define the measures and conservation targets that will apply to multiple areas of importance.
Due to these shortcomings in ecological conservation, the Bern Convention has kept the case files on both Zakynthos and Kyparissia Bay “open” for another year.
Problems across the Mediterranean
Greece has not been alone in its failure to provide sufficient protection for endangered species. Turkey and Cyprus were also highlighted at the Bern Convention.
Loggerhead turtles, as well as other species, such as the green (Chelonia mydas) turtles frequent Turkey and Cyprus to breed and build nests. Green turtles are also an endangered species.
The Bern Convention has kept case files “open” on Patara and Fethiye in Turkey, as well as on the Akamas Peninsula and the Limni area in Cyprus. This is because authorities have failed to comply with the Convention’s recommendations.
The Convention opened an additional case file for Anamur in Turkey due to a development project that is causing irreparable damage to the nesting area there.