Once again the tragic news of a sea turtle death was being discussed in Fethiye. Awareness is lacking for many individuals and authorities but hopefully the team of biologists led by Ass. Prof. Dr. Yakup Kaska on Iztuzu Beach can begin to change things for the better.
Last week two endangered species of sea turtle were found in Olüdeniz and Fethiye. A mature female Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) was found just alive, floating in the Mediterranean outside the famous Olüdeniz lagoon. Covered in slime, as a result of its being unable to dive; it had lost both its front flippers. The right flipper appeared to have been lost or removed at sometime in the past. The other was an open wound, around which a length of fishing line was still attached, cutting deeply into its flesh. Spotted by Apo Tanç it was brought ashore. The sea turtle was taken to the rehabilitation centre in Dalyan, by Meryem Tekin, local representative for SAD (Underwater Research Society.)
The Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) found dead on the shore between Fethiye and Çalış the following day was the victim of a boat propeller that cut off the rear quarter. Both these sea turtles are endangered species and both were female. They were also mature and productive. As sea turtles can live for more than 100 years and only become sexually mature after 25-30 years, any death or injury has a dangerously negative impact on numbers. Tekin points out that both these species are endangered and any death or debilitating injury is totally unacceptable when with some regulation many of these deaths could be avoided.
“It is really important that the authorities start thinking about how the numbers of deaths of sea turtles can be decreased or contained. Propeller guards, and no go zones near the nesting beaches for speed boats are just two ideas that should be discussed.”
These are only two of the many sea turtles that are have been killed or injured on this part of the Mediterranean coastline. Meryem Tekin has asked for all sightings to be reported to her. She has so far this season recorded 7 deaths. “But these are only the ones that are either seen or reported to me.” She said.
Ali İhsan Emre, a colleague who has been working to protect sea turtles for more than twenty years, has records going back two decades, suggesting that these unfortunate deaths and injuries are on the increase.
“Unfortunately it is not unusual to find up to 14 fatalities in the Gulf of Fethiye each season and as the boat numbers in the area increase so do the injuries. There is a big problem with fishing lines, hooks and plastic bags, all of which can kill or injure sea turtles.”
The environmental and marine authorities should take immediate action to protect these rare and beautiful creatures. Research suggests that only one in every thousand sea turtles reaches maturity. Activists are now becoming more vocal in their concern, reiterating time and time again that virtually nothing is being done to safeguard these magnificent aquatic reptiles.
“It seems that everyone wants to use them to make money… just look at the tourist trade around here,” says Ismail Nalbantoğlu, a coastal and marine management specialist, “but no one is prepared to do what is needed to protect them.”
The outlook for sea turtles may still be grim but there is a small beacon of hope in the form of the rehabilitation centre opened at Dalyan in 2008. Although basic and in much need of additional resources, it is staffed by a committed team from Pamukkale University lead by assistant professor of biology, Dr. Yakup Kaska. It was to this rather remote but crucial facility that the Green Turtle (now called “Şanslı” or “Lucky”) was taken by Tekin.
The post-graduate students are now caring her for, although Kaska does not think it is likely that she will be able to survive at sea. “It is unlikely that she will be able to dive to the sea bed to feed on the sea grasses that form her staple diet. Like all Green Turtles, she is a vegetarian. At the moment we are feeding her on lettuce and other green vegetables, which are not her normal food but she seems to enjoy them!” Her future is uncertain, unless Şanslı can be fitted with a prosthetic limb. It is also hoped that the centre will be able to attract sufficient funds to purchase a dive tank.
A dive tank, about 5 metres or so, would cost about 7,000 Euros, and is something we really need to find out if sea turtles like “Şanslı” are fit enough to be released. Until then Şanslı together with three Caretta caretta, two with propeller wounds and one with fishing line lacerations to her front flippers (in this case she did not loose them) are the sole residents of the centre.
Kaska is devoted to his reptilian patients and is happy to discuss how twenty years ago he came to the beach at Iztuzu, Dalyan as an undergraduate to study the nesting of the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta).
“There was no development here in 1988 but soon afterwards hotels were planned and it was only through the determined effort of conservationists, environmentalists and people who care about the environment and sea turtles that this area, known as the Köyceğiz-Dalyan Special Environmental Protection Area, came about.”
“The female Caretta caretta hatchlings that struggled down to the sea twenty years ago and survived to adulthood are now beginning to come back here to lay their eggs. Their reproductive years can last from 25 to 30 years. Every sea turtle that dies is one too many. I am now beginning to see the hatchlings that I assisted on their way 20 years ago come back as adults. This is a great honour.”
The dream for all those who work in the centre is that sometime soon they will be able to build a visitors’ centre. Kaska has an idea that a building in the shape of a Loggerhead turtle would be a good idea. “Maybe something like that will attract people who want to find out more about sea turtles and support our important project.” Let’s hope he wont have to wait another 20 years.
Kaska, together with his colleagues, appeal to anyone who is interested in helping or supporting them with their work, which carries on throughout the year, to contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 0533 573 5339.