Sea turtles have been around for up to 110 million years, visiting Fethiye’s beaches to lay their eggs from May to July; long before humans were around, let alone tourists!
For the last 20 summers research teams from various Turkish and European universities have also been appearing on Fethiye’s beaches every May, but unlike sea turtles or tourists, they stay all summer.
Now it is the responsibility of Hacitepe University in Ankara to come and collect data about sea turtles breeding and nesting on the town’s beaches.
Overall, they were pleased with this year’s nesting statistics.
They were also delighted to have found, just last month, the nest of a Green Turtle: not a species usually found in this part of Turkey.
Not so long ago it looked like the numbers of Caretta caretta, as these IUCN red-listed sea turtles are also known, coming to nest on Fethiye’s beaches, were seriously under threat.
Nests were dwindling to the point where scientists were prepared for a time when there would soon be no more early-summer visits to this part of Muğla’s coastline.
This would of course have be an environmental tragedy.
In an ideal world
If the nests found this year each contained an average of 80 viable eggs, and all the hatchlings made it to the sea and survived to adulthood, there would be an additional 800 Caretta carettas swimming in the world’s oceans.
For the next five, six decades they in turn would lay innumerable nests…
…But this is not the whole story.
The latest predators
Humans have been around for what seems like a blink of an eye compared with sea turtles.
But now, despite their last minute arrival, humans appear to have claimed ownership of the sea, beaches, and the coastal margins (land just behind the beaches).
More than a million tourists visit the Fethiye region annually and mass tourism presents a serious threat to the Mediterranean nesting beaches and by default, sea turtles.
Hoteliers and restaurateurs insist that there is an increasing demand from their customers for ‘comfort and entertainment’ and as a result there is an increasing amount of paraphernalia on the beaches:
Sunbeds, parasols, carpets, wooden walkways abound and all too often this remains on the beaches day and night, with the potential to inhibit, prevent or destroy both nesting and hatching.
Another side effect of people visiting Fethiye’s beautiful shores is litter, and this too can kill or injure sea turtles.
They can mistake plastic bags floating in the sea for jellyfish, causing them a slow, painful death and rubbish left on beaches, if not collected, invariably ends up in the sea.
Guided by the moon and stars
One of the main problems for hatchlings’ is their powerful instinct to scurry towards light, which in nature should be the moon and stars shining on the sea.
But nowadays, light pollution from beachside developments (hotels, bars, restaurants and building sites and even distant towns), confuse the new borne and they end up
scrambling up or along the beach in completely the wrong direction.
Their dead bodies, if scavenging animals haven’t already eaten them, are found on the roads, paths and car parks, the following morning.
A lesson for Fethiye
It’s not just on the beaches that sea turtles are at risk. In the last month alone, the corpses of four mature loggerhead turtles were washed up on Fethiye’s shores;
victims of fishing lines, nets, jet skis and boat propellers.
Just last weekend a sea turtle was released on Çalış beach by Professor Yakup Kaska from Pamukkale University who is in charge of DEKAMER in Iztuzu, Dalyan.
This is the closest marine turtle rehabilitation centre to Fethiye, where injured sea turtles can receive treatment from potentially fatal injuries.
You can see Lycia, a Loggerhead sea turtle being released together with an explanation about why and how she was injured.
It is not difficult to calculate that the numbers are not so positive after all. In fact, these statistics indicate an overall reduction in the Loggerhead Turtle population.
Some scientists believe that whatever humans do the sea turtles will survive and see a future where they work in tandem with the tourism industry to protect the marine turtles vulnerable environment.
There are huge financial benefits for Fethiye’s tourism if the area’s nesting beaches are managed sensitively and sustainably.
If you want to learn more about how to protect sea turtles and their habitats, the Travel Foundation has made a film that you can watch here.
In April 2015 there will be the 35th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation in Sarıgerme, Dalaman.