Turtle versus tourist

13 August 2017

Only recently we were talking about the conversations and experiences we have had along this journey that have made us think about the impact of tourism on local areas and their communities.

Immediately on our arrival in Greece a mighty conflict between the natural environment and mass tourism became only too clear.

In the harbour at our first anchorage in Argostoli, Kefalonia we met loggerhead turtles. We have spotted the occasional turtle swimming out at sea but not known very much about them. Native to the Ionian Islands these surprisingly enormous, prehistoric looking yet beautiful creatures swim in dwindling numbers.

But it is also understandable when you have beaches like these why people flock to these islands for their holidays and how tourism has become incredibly important to their economies. Opposite this clifftop café with its ingenious way of getting drinks to the beach below we stopped for breakfast on our way back from saying goodbye to Our new shipmate. We got talking to the German woman running the taverna and accommodation attached. Business is quiet for them this year. Visitors throughout Europe have less money to spend on holidays. The fewer visitors the less money coming in. It is a story we have heard in other places reliant on tourism for a living.

Here though taking the tourist euro seemed to take precedence over its impact on the natural environment. At Lagunas beach on Zakynthos, where tourist numbers did not seem to be troubled by Europe’s finances, it was not hard to see just why the turtles were finding it so difficult to find their nesting sites. There is a tragic irony to the cuddly turtles sold in the souvenir shops.

We stood and chatted to the 18 year old British volunteer for Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece. She told us about the reducing number of nests each year – only a few years ago there were over 1000 nests each year, this year the number of nests would be lucky to reach 700.

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Steps are being taken to protect the nests. These cages each mark a nest and no one is allowed on these beaches between 7pm and 7am when the eggs hatch and the baby turtles make their way to the sea. The waters too are protected by a speed limit of under 6 knots to stop turtles being killed by speeding motorboats and anchoring is prohibited in the bay during nesting season.

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We both just felt incredibly sad looking down at the view of the beautiful bay at Gerkhas, another main nesting site, and wondered what could be done to redress the balance between protecting these wonderful creatures and still ensuring the livelihood of the local people.

We made a donation to Archelon but that didn’t seem enough.

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