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European network of Sea Life Centres - the SOS Programme
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European network of Sea Life Centres - the SOS Programme European network of Sea Life Centres - the SOS Programme European network of Sea Life Centres - the SOS Programme

Caretta caretta... the Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) have been on earth for 250 million years and are contemporaries of the earliest dinosaurs.  The species, as with all sea turtles is endangered.  Each summer hundreds of Loggerheads return to Zakynthos to mate and lay their eggs on the beaches in Laganas Bay. 

Zakynthos is the most important nesting ground in Europe, with 80% of the Meditteranean population returning each summer.  Loggerheads only return to the beach where they hatched, so the Zakynthian population is indigenous.   If they die out the island will not be repopulated by turtles from other areas in the Mediterranean.

However, as well as being a sea turtle nursery, Zakynthos is also a popular holiday destination, and each summer, at the same time that the turtles return, the island turns into a playground for hundreds of thousands of tourists.  With unchecked tourist development of the land, nesting areas are under immense pressure from illegal building, pollution, illegal beach furniture and traffic.  From only 11.5km of nesting beach in Laganas Bay, only 5.5km remain in a good state to attract nesting turtles.

Tourism is a critical and worsening situation in Zakynthos in terms of nesting beach destruction, but coupled with the fact that with only 1 or 2 out of every 1000 hatchlings naturally surviving to reach adulthood and reproduce, the species is teetering precariously on the edge.  Yannis Vardakastanis, ESS' founder, says that when he was a child growing up at Gerakas, he remembers the beaches black with hatchlings and females nesting during the daytime.  30 years on this is no longer seen, due to the degradation of nesting beaches, tourists on the beaches day and night, falling nest numbers and many hatchlings not even making it to the sea.  Moreover each summer many adults are seriously injured or die as a direct result of tourism.

Although water sports have been banned in Laganas Bay, boating activity is unchecked.  Private yachts come and go as they please with little regard for speed limits and buoys delinating the restricted Marine Park maritime zones. Turtle spotting boats are rife. Many chase the turtles, some pull them out of the water to show tourists, and cause immense distress to these animals which are only trying to rest after their exhausting nesting process.  Then there are the glass bottom boats which operate in such a way as to force the turtles to dive underneath in order for paying customers to see them.

Although fishing is banned in Laganas Bay over the summer months, laws are not enforced and as a result turtles are still being caught in nets, ingest hooks and fishing line and become ill and die.  They also swallow plastic bags which float in the water like jellyfish.  These become twisted in the gut, the turtles are unable to eat, grow weak and starve to death.

However, the most horrific injuries occur when speed boats collide with turtles.  Injures consist of deep cuts to the carapace (shell) and internal organs, from which turtles can die a slow and agonizing death. 

However, turtles can recover if found in time and given emergency treatment.

Normally when an injured turtle is found, she is flown the Rescue Hospital in Glyfada, Athens, a flight of more than 1 hour.  Flights are no longer available, so they have to be driven and on a noisy ferry on a 6 hour journey.  This wait can be the difference between life and death.  Immediate treatment is essential for the turtle to survive.

To change this, Earth Sea & Sky has teamed up with Sea Life Centre UK's SOS Campaign.  Each year the influential conservation and campaigning arm of the European network of Sea Life Centres - the SOS Programme - champions a worthy cause and this year it is to launch an ambitious campaign, with Earth Sea & Sky, to raise 500,000 Euros (350,000) to build a Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre at Agios Sostis.  We want to ensure that injured turtles can receive immediate medical treatment from specialist marine vets, rehabilitation and ultimately release back into the ocean, all without having to be flown to Athens.

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We need your support...
We aim to start building the centre in 2007/8, ready for the 2009 season.  Construction work began in November 2007, and we hope to be open to receive casualties in June, and the general public shortly after. We have an open day on 5th June to coincide with International Environment Day.

However, the build has started with the aid of a bank loan, and funding to pay that off and keep the hospital running once complete is vital.But to do this we need to raise 500,000 Euros to fund the building cost, equip the medical bay, hospital tanks for recovering turtles and a large rehabilitation tank for turtles due for release into the wild once fully recovered.  

The centre will also serve as an Information Centre, manned by volunteers and will be open to the public.

Research data collected at the hospital and rehabilitation centre once open, will be invaluable to an international pool of knowledge which will benefit all species of sea turtle around the World.

This will be a massive undertaking, but one which will make Yannis' dream come true of conserving the Gerakas Peninsula forever, and also helping to guarantee the survival of Zakynthos' most ancient species.

The appeal is Europe-wide in all Sea Life Centres and Sanctuaries, online on this site, and at the Earth Sea & Sky Wildlife Information Centre over the summer months.  

If you would like to make a donation, you can make one online now, or :

Fundraising events are also very welcome and we would be happy to send information to help.

Please give whatever you can to make this project a reality.  Every little helps.  Thank you.

Donations received:
Our grateful thanks to some corporate donations received...
Swaroski Crystals
Bocnas Furniture
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