International sea turtle symposium 2017

This is a short report on the annual 37th international sea turtle symposium (ISTS) that took place in Las Vegas, USA, 15-20 April 2017. I am writing this on the way back home, while waiting in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Reykjavik airports.

Every year the ISTS provides an excellent opportunity for all sorts of people to meet up and discuss ongoing issues with regards to local and global aspects of sea turtle research and conservation. I will try here to convey my impressions and pinpoint specific subjects that I found very interesting.

Every year the symposium has a different theme and this year’s theme was climate change. Climate change is a hot topic in sea turtle research (both literally and metaphorically) for many reasons. Temperature has many effects on the different life stages of sea turtles and it is of utmost importance to see how they will react on the global temperature rise (as well as interesting from an academic point of view).

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James Spotila, a world leading sea turtle expert, next to his final message during his plenary talk titled “Global warming and sea turtles: A personal history” 

One main issue here is that all species of sea turtles exhibit what is called temperature dependent sex determination. Roughly, (and this roughly is a subject of current research) higher egg incubation temperatures produce female hatchlings and lower produce male ones. However, as James Spotila noted in his speech – also addressed in this paper here and here – the problem with high temperatures is not so much the feminisation of the populations rather than the increased hatchling mortality in the nests. In other worlds, as Spotila said:

“High temperatures: loads of dead female hatchlings”

Marc Girondot, an expert on the mechanisms under which sea turtle sex is determined gave a very interesting talk with title “Thermal reaction norm for sexualisation: the missing link between nest temperature and ratio”. He stressed that under variable incubation temperatures it is not true that the sex is determined in the middle third of the incubation duration (as at least I thought) but the issue is rather more complicated. Moreover, he stated that incubation duration is not indicative of sex ratios. That is, even though someone would think that high incubation durations (which could be resulted by lower temperatures) should produce more males, this is not necessarily true. Moreover, he said that when examining sex ratios in a specific population, one should not rely on important values e.g. pivotal temperatures (temperature that produces 50% males and 50% females) that have been derived in other populations but each population should be examined separately. In any case the subject is more complicated than what one might initially think (at least I am lacking the technical knowledge to fully understand it). Remember though that the more we are learning about a subject the more we realise that we have yet to learn!

But what about turtles that are already live on very hot areas? Nicolas Pilcher, gave a talk about the hawksbills in the Arabian gulf, where air temperatures can reach 50 degrees during the summer. He noted the existence of, maybe unexpected, high proportions of males to females in the population there. He explained that this is due to the fact the hawksbills there nest quite early in the summer season. That is, turtles there have adapted to the warm conditions. In fact colonisation of northern (southern for the south hemisphere) beaches is an adaptation which could help mitigate the effect of climate change. Maybe this has started already: this year there was a loggerhead nest in the south part of France, near Saint-Tropez, the northmost point that has been recorded for the species ever. Sandra Hochscheid also presented some nest time series from Italy that suggests that a colonisation might be happening there as well. Pilcher finally noted in his talk that

“Sea turtles have survived large scale climatic changes over millennia. The question is how fast they are able to do that…”

which is the main message that one should keep in mind here.

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There were many presentations regarding the use of drones in sea turtle research and in fact one entire workshop was dedicated to that technology which has been recently introduced to the sea turtle community. Among their main applications are: sea turtle abundance estimates in the sea, behavioural studies, estimates of operational sex ratios during mating season as well as sex ratios in foraging grounds, beach monitoring and constructions of 3D beach maps. The insights that they provide are numerous and no doubt they can be of great use. My feeling is that even though their use might not be groundbreaking (at least not yet), things might change soon, especially if their flight time, currently very restricted, becomes much longer. Regarding, general use of video footage, its usefulness was also highlighted in a talk by Alexandra Gulick, student of Karen Bjorndal, who studied green turtle foraging behaviour using static cameras in the sea floor.

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Juvenile sheepshead bream fish feed from a shell of a female loggerhead, in the cleaning station we extensively studied in 2016 in Zakynthos, island, Greece.

The use of drones and static cameras had also a main role in my presentation about the cleaning stations of Zakynthos island, Greece. The talk was titled “Detection and use of seasonally ephemeral fish-cleaning stations by breeding sea turtles using drones and undewater cameras” and it was a joint work with Gail Schofield, Rebecca Haughey and Kostas Katselidis. It was accompanied by a video presented in the symposium’s video night, which entertained the crowd quite a bit! I am going to come back soon with a blog post exclusively dedicated to that subject.

Another talk that made me think a lot was the one by Ken Lohmann on “Magnetic navigation and geomagnetic imprinting in sea turtles” where some very convincing arguments were given in support of the fact that sea turtles use the earth’s magnetic field to locate their nesting beach. The corresponding paper is available here and further information can be also read in the 3rd volume of The Biology of Sea Turtles. Ken Lohmann is actually also the new president elect of the International Sea Turtle Society and he will be organising the 2019 symposium (I believe somewhere near Florida, USA).

Genetics play now a main role in sea turtle research substituting or accompanying the traditional flipper tagging methods. Researchers are able to assign to every nest the genetic profile of the mother – the corresponding SWOT article. A very nice example is the research that it is being done with hawksbills in Jumby Bay on Long Island, Antigua in the West Indies. This was presented in a form of a poster by Kathryn Levasseur. Through genetic studies, people in that project were able to verify the presence of mother-daughter as well as sibling pairs in the same nesting beach. In combination with saturation tagging they were also able to determine in a very good accuracy the sexual maturation age for this specific population (around 15 years). In fact the same result was also confirmed by another study presented by Jamie Clark et al. using skeletochronology (google that word) another very powerful technique which is able to estimate the age of a turtle using growth layers/rings in their bones.

A very nice message was given by Selina Heppell in a talk titled “Great, we saved them! Now what?”. She stressed that conservation successes should be addressed and celebrated and in many cases we should “switch from an emergency conservation mode to a larger horizon, more holistic picture”. In fact this rhetoric is strongly supported by many scientists. Brendan Goldley gave a similar message in the final part of his plenary talk in the previous ISTS in Lima, Peru, 2015. I will also come back to that in a future blog.

The new SWOT report (the State of the World’s sea Turtles) was also launched during the symposium. If you have never heard of SWOT, you should definitely have a look at the website of this high quality sea turtle magazine, which this year was dedicated to the sea turtles of Africa. This time, three photos of mine, two from Zakynthos and one from Ghana were included in the report. You can also have a look at last year’s report featuring an article of Gail Schofield and mine on how in-water turtle observations generate valuable new insights

Finally, the usual ISTS festivities were adapted to match the spirit of Las vegas…

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One of the main organisers, Nathan Robinson, claiming here the title of the Symposium’s King

…and it was also announced that the next symposium will take place next year in Kobe, Japan:

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Many thanks to all people who worked towards the organisation of this very successful symposium! I am also grateful to the International Sea Turtle Society for providing a travel grant which allowed me to take part in it!

 

Humans feeding wild sea turtles: different aspects.

Conservationists and biologists have been always uncomfortable – if not categorically against – with the idea of humans feeding animals in the wild. Sometimes the reasons are obvious especially when human safety is compromised: you really don’t want to start feeding a polar bear, a lion or a great white shark. Beyond safety issues there can be other concerns of course, like the health of the animal itself (when it is fed food that is not used to) as well as changes in its habits and its behaviour. Of course, it all depends on the scale that this feeding take place. In this post we will focus on feeding wild sea turtles and in particular as this takes place around a very specific area in the greek island of Zakynthos, an area that I have been closely observing for the last years. Before we start, we should stress that feeding sea turtles is not illegal in Greece.

Agios Sostis is located on the west part of Laganas bay, Zakynthos, within the limits of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos. We are going to focus on 3 specific areas around Agios Sostis: A small port that local fishermen regularly use, a patch near the shore that a few of the all year-round resident loggerhead sea turtles naturally forage, and the marine area between these spots. This marine area is characterised by turtle spotting boat activities, especially during August and September. This is due to the fact that the area has relatively high density of resident loggerheads, who, in contrast to the actively reproductive females, do not migrate to any distant foraging grounds.  See here for photos of some of the resident turtles of the area.

The little port is used daily from local fishermen, who after returning from the night’s fishing, they are typically cleaning off their nets, discarding any unwanted bycatch. A male loggerhead, named Sotiris, who has been possibly around for more than 15 years now, started to take advantage of this discard. Thus, an interesting relationship started between him and the local fishermen who sometimes just throw fish, crabs squid etc in the water or other times feed him directly in the mouth. It is clear that the scale of this feeding is very small.  As far as this specific turtle itself is concerned, Sotiris has also been observed foraging naturally in several occasions.

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Sotiris, one of the long term residents, is being fed some squid from local fishermen.

As a conservationist, I always found it very hard to come up with arguments against that type of feeding. For me, it has always symbolised an alternative relationship, between turtles and fishermen, a relationship very often devastating for the animal as the interaction with the fishing industry has always been considered the number one anthropogenic threat for the sea turtles worldwide. One should never forget that many people, including fishermen, view marine life in a completely different way, than others who, for example, have grown up with David Attenborough documentaries. As we will also stress in a future blog post, understanding people’s relationship with animals is crucial for conservation. Not all people make the discrimination between not wild and wild animals (the ones that “shouldn’t be fed”).  One does not have to look too far in order to see that other people can categorise animals differently: useful for humans, dangerous for humans, animals that do harm with one way or another, animals that are indifferent to humans.

Loggerhead interactions

Even though, it could have always been the case, the first time it came to my attention that more turtles are entering the port, seeking for food, was in 2011. In this video (3:42-7:44), another resident-to-be male loggerhead turtle, Agisilaos, makes one of his first appearances in the port. It is interesting how the french narrator of this particular documentary, also describes the story with great amounts of romanticism. Until today, Sotiris and Agisilaos are the two turtles that regularly occupy the port, with other resident turtles appearing from time to time. When two turtles meet at the port, a fight between them starts. Typically, one turtle is the attacker, the other being the offender, and the fight typically consists of head to tail circling and several attempted bites (we should note that the loggerheads have pretty good defensive skills against these bites).

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The two main male loggerheads that are present in the port: Sotiris (top) is attacking Agisilaos (down). See the full fight in this video
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Sotiris is attacking another resident turtle of unidentified sex.
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Agisilaos is attacking a resident male inside the port.

These type of fights however do not occur only in the port but also in a nearby foraging ground. Only a few meters away from the part, there exists a patch of relatively small size where most turtles are observed foraging on a sponge from the phylum Porifera. Regular fighting is observed among turtles that have never been observed to be involved in a human feeding incident. In fact, one can identify specific individuals that occupy the patch more often than others and also being the most aggressive.

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Antagonistic interaction between loggerhead turtles in a natural foraging ground. For a comprehensive video that depicts this type of behaviour click here.

It is safe now to conclude, that loggerheads can exhibit some territorial behaviour, defending their foraging grounds, by attacking other turtles that are trying to be there as well. Moreover there are indications that the more spatially restricted the foraging place is, the more aggressive these interactions become. Even though, it is not easy to quantify, the interactions inside the port seem to be more aggressive and last longer than the ones in the natural foraging ground, where the food is more available and spread out. In fact in this one of a kind video, shot by Giannis Xenos, one can see a long term resident male loggerhead looking for molluscs, in a very wide sandbank area, while being followed closely by another resident. No aggressive interaction occurs between the two turtles whatsoever, possibly having to do with the fact that the food in this case is scarce and spread out. However, one should also not underestimate the personality factor, it is true that different turtles react differently in similar situations.

More research is required to see if this feeding can indeed result to increased antagonistic interactions and how this affects the welfare of the turtles, see also this interesting preliminary study from the nearby island of Kefalonia. Again, it all depends on the scale of the feeding. It seems to be the case that in Kefalonia this is more intensive and tourists are even encouraged to buy fish from the fishermen in order to feed the turtles themselves. Here the issue loses its romantic flavour and becomes more complicated.

Turtles being fed by or for tourists

Apart from Kefalonia, Zakynthos recently experienced a similar issue. Last summer, it became somehow a trend, to feed with tomatoes a specific turtle, right near the port and the foraging ground. This feeding was coming from both turtle spotting and private boats. Interestingly only one turtle seemed to be involved, Achilles, a young male loggerhead also a long term resident.

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Achilles being fed with tomatoes on several occasions during the summer of 2016.

Having been observing Achilles for the last 5 years, I could say that his habits were a bit different this year. He was slightly more aggressive, mostly swimming around the area, and not spending as much time naturally foraging on sponges as the year before (he did not quit doing this however). It could be the case that this had something to do with this feeding in which he was continuously involved. The National Marine Park of Zakynthos and Archelon released a joint public statement about this issue (greek version, english version, article in a Zakynthian newspaper in greek).

Encouraging tourists to feed sea turtles is problematic. On one hand the scale of this activity increases a lot, more turtles can be involved also for a larger amount of time and as we have explained this can potentially have a negative impact on their welfare. On the other hand, it gives the wrong messages to the visitors of the island, about how to treat wildlife. I can understand that the word “wrong” here can be debated by people who see wildlife in a different way. However I would encourage the Zakynthians involved in sea turtle spotting to think what they would like to see in their island:

  • Sea turtle tours that look like visits to the zoo or a farm.

or

  • Sea turtle tours that promote nature in its pure and untouched form.

Even though, I don’t want to tell people what to do, I hope they go for the second option and encourage others to do the same.

 

The book of Honu: Pioneering citizen-based science

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Image source here

We began as two sport divers with an interest in underwater photography. We weren’t marine biologists and had no background in conservation. We knew nothing about the Hawaiian green turtle, or honu as the Hawaiians call them.

Peter Bennett and Ursula Keuper-Bennett start their book with these phrases. Originally from Canada, Peter and Ursula had their first underwater experience with a sea turtle in 1998, on the reefs of Honokowai, in the Hawaiian island of Maui. They named her Clothahump. The Bennets kept returning back to Maui every year up until today (at least I hope-their last video in their youtube channel is from 2013). All these years, they have spent countless hours observing and documenting the local Hawaiian green sea turtle population in a dedicated and consistent way, that probably very few – if any – people had done before them. They summarised their accumulated knowledge in their book, The book of Honu: Enjoying and learning about Hawai’i’s sea turtles, published by the University of Hawai’i’ Press in 2008.

This book is a treasure. Really. They provide highly detailed information about the underwater life and habits of the Honus like no other before, scientist or not. Not any modern and fancy sea turtle behaviour study technique like GPS fine scale tracking, accelerometers, remotely operated vehiclescameras attached to sea turtles, or even, the so popular these days, use of drones, can provide such a great insight into the daily routine of sea turtles that resulted from their dedication and enthusiasm for more than 2 decades. (the linked studies and videos however provide very useful insights of different nature and they are highly recommended!). It is not surprising that

We attended the 13th annual sea turtle symposium in Georgia. Once the turtle specialists heard that we’d been observing turtles underwater for years, they began asking us questions: How did we tell them apart, whether they got along together, if they had favorite spots, just what is it that they did all day long-the same sort of queries that everyone had.

The Bennetts give many answers (or at least insights) to questions of the above type in their book.

  • “Upon approach from humans, young turtles are caught up in a delicate dance between curiosity and caution”.
  • “Juvenile turtles seem to enjoy play. A dance of round-and-round where one would try to nip the tail of the other”.
  • “Male-male mounting turns out to be so common. Perhaps it is a dominance behaviour”.
  • “Some honu occupy exactly the same spot year after year. Some have 2 or 3 favorite places, while others are content to stay in the same small area”.
  •  “They scratch the tops and bottoms of their shells, their throats, their heads”.
  • “We’ve concluded that the honu create their own cleaning stations”.
  • “They mostly do the same things we do at home: eat and sleep”.
  • “They don’t seem to have a pecking order. We have never seen one honu consistently dominating another. Even size is not a reliable predictor of which turtle will prevail in a confrontation. At times, we’ve seen the smaller honu chase off the larger”. I can personally confirm this last one.
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A honu cleaning station on Maui island. 

The book is full of descriptions of the above style. Notice the absence of dry scientific language. In fact positive, turtle-huggy emotions are overflowing:

There is no better experience – no happier time – for us than resting with old friends on the ocean bottom.

But that should not discourage people, even highly qualified marine biologists, to read this book and take its content into serious account. Of course sea turtle behaviour of the above kind is hard to quantify and it is open to many explanations – even I disagree with a couple of their interpretations. But if I was writing a book about my own underwater sea turtle encounters, I hardly imagine I would use a much different tone.

Photo identification

One of the first questions that people ask after hearing about our turtle experience, is “How do you tell them apart?”

The Bennetts were among the first people (if not the first) who consistently used photo id techniques to distinguish individuals: their facial scales (scutes) are practically unique, like a human fingerprint. Until the end of 2004, they had logged more than 750 unique individuals. They gave names to turtles that were repeatedly observing and naturally they became attached to them. It is really enjoyable, to read their narrations about the lives of known turtles, how they first met, how they were reacting in their presence as well as with other turtles, and about their transition from being young juveniles to mature adults. This emotional attachment however sometimes came with a cost.

Fibropapilloma

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Example of a Hawaiian green turtle with fibropapilloma tumours. This is an alive turtle basking on a beach.

Seeing an afflicted turtle will probably disturb you. It certainly upsets us.

Fibropapillomatosis (FP) was firstly recorded in Florida, in 1938 and in Hawaii in 1958. It is a disease that gives the turtles nasty external and internal tumours that can be more than 10cm large in diameter. The tumours grow steadily, sometimes, blinding the turtle, while the tumours on the skin, neck and plastron, make swimming difficult. The cause and how FP spreads still remains a great mystery. Some healthy turtles have remained healthy even if they live close to infected ones. A herpesvirus seem to play a role in the disease, as well as poor quality of water, even though infected turtles have been found in clean waters. The Marine Turtle Specialist group consider FP as one of the key unsolved mysteries of sea turtle biology.

The Bennetts were unfortunate to see many of their friends dying from the disease, including Clothahump itself.

We saw her only once in 1993. The white spots had mushroomed into tumors. We both cried underwater. That day, we vowed to tell Clothahump’s story and somehow help the ocean community on her reef.

And so they did. Their long term observations of affected turtles led to a better understanding on how the disease appears, progresses and disappears. They discovered that the tumours start from the eyes, and in general one can tell the severity of an affected turtle, by assessing the eye tumours. They also discovered that it affected primary young turtles, and that most adult turtles recover within 3 or 4 years. They collaborated with George Balazs, an expert on Hawaiian sea turtles, and they published a series of scientific papers and reports, like this one and this one (page 37) (also available here).  The Bennetts comforted their readers:

Our records and other studies show that FP isn’t nearly as deadly as was first feared. FP related deaths are not affecting the chances for survival of the whole population. It certainly kills some, but others live and grow to reproduce and replenish the population. There’s comfort in knowing that.

Nevertheless, for these two people that see turtles as individuals and not as part of a population, many sea turtle deaths were like losing a friend.

In a population level things are looking great till today indeed.

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The future looks very optimistic for the sea turtles of Hawaii. The population is increasing and very recently it was characterised as least concern by the IUCN.

Peter and Ursula have contributed a lot in our knowledge of sea turtle biology with their observations. But they have inspired us even more with their passion…

Peter and Ursula’s webpage (made in 1995!)

Peter and Ursula’s youtube channel

 

How many sea turtles do we want? The case of Kyparissia bay, Greece.

 

The story of loggerhead sea turtle nesting area of Kyparissia bay is an interesting one. Several issues have been risen during the last years, both in a political and a conservation level. In this post, we will focus on the latter. Situated in the western part of Peloponnese, Greece, the whole bay has total length of 44 km with the majority of loggerhead nests (around 85%) concentrated in the south 9.5 km. The average nest number in this core area used to be, up a decade ago, around 550-600 nests (a bit more in the whole bay), see this paper. It was considered to be the second largest reproductive site for the species in the Mediterranean, after Laganas bay, Zakynthos, where typically double the amount of nests were laid each year. However, unlike Zakynthos, the Kyparissia nests were suffering from mammal predation (e.g. dogs, foxes) as well as severe flooding due to large waves. Hence intensive conservation efforts began in the early 90’s by Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, with the objective to reduce these effects. Metal grids were placed on top of nests to reduce predation and nests laid close to the sea were being relocated into a safer place. It goes without saying that this requires a tremendous effort every year, by dedicated young volunteers. The result: hatchling production was steadily increasing every year. Hence, 15 years after (around 2007) Kyparissia’s nests started increasing as well. Up to then, its nest numbers, as well as the ones of Zakynthos was pretty much stable. Given the fact that the minimum sexual maturation age for loggerheads is 14-15 years (check here the source), this increase, as expected, is naturally attributed to the increased hatchling production since the beginning of the 90’s. In fact Kyparissia’s nesting data itself could lead to a nice scientific paper regarding sexual maturation age and other general parameters of the demographics of the Mediterranean loggerheads.

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Two of the main conservation measures in Kyparissia bay: nest relocation in order to avoid inundations and protective metal grids to reduce predation.

 And this increase continues till today. Last summer (2016), the 9.5 core sector had around 2650 nests,  a truly unprecedented number. Projections elevate this number to more than 3000 nests for the whole bay. To compare with, the most nests that Zakynthos ever had was a bit more than 2000, in 1995. We should note here that 2016 was an exceptional year for the whole Mediterranean with record breaking nest numbers in many areas.

It is also worth noting that unless our assumptions on demographic parameters are wrong, this current increase has not hit yet its exponential phase. This is because the turtles that nest for the first time (neophytes) still belong to the first generation of hatchlings that were born after the conservation measures.  So very very roughly, until now, the gain in neophytes every year, should directly correlate to the number of hatchlings that were “saved” 15 years due to conservation measures. That should theoretically result in a linear increase these days, i.e., a fixed amount of “saved” neophytes is added every year. It could be the case that 15 years after the first increase of the nest numbers (i.e., around 2022), the second generation of hatchlings will be mature enough to start laying eggs as well.


Will the nest numbers explode then? If yes, is that necessarily something good? Is it always true that the more nests, the better? With how many nests will we be happy? And at which point, conservation stops and intervention begins?


The IUCN marine turtle specialist group, the world authority in sea turtle writes on its website:

We envision marine turtles fulfilling their ecological roles on a healthy Planet where all Peoples value and celebrate their continued survival.

While this statement does not give a straight answer, to how many sea turtles we would like to have out there, it implies that a healthy population is desirable, meaning that its dynamics are driven by natural powers only while the anthropogenic impact is absent. In order to find out these ideal population numbers we would have to use a time machine and go many years back in time. How many years back though? Scientists and conservationists often suffer from the baseline syndrome: The tendency to regard healthy population levels as the ones that one sees at the beginning of her/his career, see for instance here and here. Regarding Kyparissia bay, nobody can know what the correct baseline is (i.e., the population number in equilibrium where no anthropogenic effects have acted). Let us note that given the fact that Kyparissia’s beaches are pretty much pristine, the main anthropogenic effect is that of the fishing industry. In fact, it is estimated that (source), over 44000 sea turtles die every year because of the fishing industry. (Note: however, all these do not belong to the Mediterranean population, as the majority of sea turtles in the west part of the Mediterranean basin come from the Atlantic populations. Thus, always with regards to conservative estimations, the number of deaths of local Mediterranean turtles should be less). It could be the case that the average nest number in the 80’s, around 600 nests per year, was an equilibrium point driven by a combination of natural dynamics and interactions with fishing industry. Of course with such long lived species, as sea turtles are, we cannot even be certain if this number was actually an equilibrium or not.

In any case, current conservation measures in Kyparissia address only nest predation and inundation, which are both natural processes (though even that is still debatable; are predator numbers what they should be? where they always predating nests? does climate change increase inundations?). Moreover, it could be the case that even these measures do not come without a cost. In fact, given that low nest incubation temperatures produce male hatchlings, nest inundations could be a natural mechanism to boost male turtle production in, what seems to be, a female biased population, see here (page 67). Also, sea turtles lay their nest away from the surf, something that has resulted as a natural selection process. One could argue that by relocating a doomed nest, that would result in survival of hatchlings that will keep doing the same wrong choice of nest site. However in this interesting study for an Australian loggerhead population, it was shown that

…doomed-egg relocation does not substantially distort the gene pool in the eastern Australian loggerhead stock and should not be abandoned as a strategy for the conservation of marine turtle populations.

Still further research is required on this topic. Taking all the above into account, my opinion is:


The current conservation measures in Kyparissia are only justified if they are considered as counter-measures to sea turtle mortality in the sea. If the anthropogenic sea turtle mortality was zero then they shouldn’t exist in the first place.


Of course the above statement, implies that we are trying to solve a problem (anthropogenic mortality), not by dealing with the problem directly but sort of by patching it up. Of course, this is not big news in sea turtle conservation. Mortality at sea due to fishing industry is extremely difficult to control and hence reduce. Thus, it looks like that start of conservation measures in the beginning of the 90’s was well justified indeed.

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But what about in the future? Should we always celebrate after another record breaking year? Nest numbers are starting to blow up, making the protection of every single nest, an almost impossible task.  Unless any density effects come into play, introducing some negative dynamics, this increase is likely to continue (?).  We have seen cases where nesting beaches host a huge number of nesting females, like the case of Raine island in Australia (see this impressive video), the largest green sea turtle rookery in the world with tens of thousands females every year. In fact, Raine island is an example where, turtles are just too many. So many in fact, that they destroy each other’s nests, resulting in an extremely low nesting and hatching success (just Google “Raine island reproductive failure”).

Yet, the young conservationist in Kyparissia has a decision to make: protect or not the nest she/he just found? Depending on if none, half or all the nests are decided to be protected, the long term equilibrium nest number that corresponds to each decision will be different (and currently unknown).  None decision seems right or wrong at the moment, but we should definitely dream of a time where sea turtle population dynamics are only driven by natural processes.

This post is dedicated to those, who have walked thousands kilometres, poured hundreds kilos of sweat and spent countless sleepless nights at the beaches of Kyparissia.