Endangered Green, Loggerhead turtles make comeback in Cyprus In this photo taken on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, beachgoers observe a tiny sea turtle that just hatched trying to reach the Mediterranean's warm waters on Cyprus' protected Lara beach. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Endangered Green, Loggerhead turtles make comeback in Cyprus
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For these ancient reptiles, a stretch of beach on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been their home for thousands of years.

Against the setting sun, the tiny turtles that have just hatched on Lara Beach strain against the surf to reach the Mediterranean Sea and embark on their life's journey.

And in 20 to 30 years, they'll be back at this exact location to lay their own eggs.

After being hunted to near extinction in the first half of the last century, the Mediterranean's endangered Loggerhead and Green turtles are making a comeback thanks to pioneering conservation efforts, Cypriot marine biologists say.

When those efforts began in 1978, there were just 300 turtle nests on the island's beaches where the reptiles return to lay their eggs. The population has grown to around 1,100 nests last year, said Andreas Demetropoulos, the founder and co-head of a turtle conservation program under the island-nation's Fisheries and Marine Research Department.

That may not sound a lot, but with the turtles' reproductive cycles stretching out as long as three decades, the results are "quite spectacular," said Demetropoulos.

This increase is especially encouraging for the Green turtle, which lays its eggs in only two countries — Turkey and European Union member Cyprus. There are only about 1,500 female Green turtles that lay eggs in those two countries, as opposed to 6,000 female Loggerhead — or Careta Careta — turtles that lay eggs across the Mediterranean.

According to marine biologist and conservation program co-head Myroula Hadjichristophorou, Cyprus has 200-300 Green turtles who lay eggs while the number for Loggerheads is more than double that.

Cyprus instituted its conservation program long before any other EU member and that has paid dividends, said Hadjichristoforou. Efforts include guarding against the turtles' main predator — foxes — and passing crucial legislation in 1989 that allowed conservationists to protect two key beaches in the island's west and northwest, keeping curious locals and tourists at bay.

Before this, residents would camp on the beach and fire up barbecues with little concern for the turtles. But over time, Hadjichristophorou says the region has built up a conservationist culture — from schoolkids to adults — so that folks who spot something like an injured turtle notify the authorities immediately.

Turtles have been around for 200 million years on Earth but have called the Mediterranean home only for about 10,000 years, said Hadjichristophorou. Remarkably, the turtles' own ingrained "biological GPS" brings them back to lay their eggs to the same beaches that their ancestors chose thousands of years ago.

"When people come here with their families, their children, they see the babies coming out of their nests, this is something that they will never forget," said Hadjichristophorou.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is Cyprus so concerned about its turtles?
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COMMENTS (3)
  • AmandaJ-lam
    10/26/2018 - 08:47 a.m.

    Cyprus is concerned for there turtles because there are so few of them left and Cyprus is one of the only 2 places on earth that these turtles lay their eggs. I also believe that this is because they want people to be able to see these turtles in the future and they want them to be able to experience these little turtles coming out of their shells for the first time instead of not seeing them at all.

  • VictoriaW-lam
    10/26/2018 - 11:50 a.m.

    I went to Cozumel, Mexico this summer, and I got to go and see baby sea turtles hatching and going into the water. This was the most amazing experience! The turtles were so small, and we got to help them into the water. I learned a lot about the turtles, and it really made me think about how amazing they are! They can leave their home beach and then come back to the same exact spot 30 years later to lay their own eggs. It's crazy how they come back to the same exact beach that they hatched on, out of the whole ocean. They are amazing creatures and I would love to see the turtles again when I go back to Mexico.

  • LindsayH-lam
    10/26/2018 - 01:26 p.m.

    Cyprus is so concerned about the turtles because there are so few of them left and only two countries that the turtles can lay their eggs in. If Cyprus were to take away one of those places there would be even less turtles in the wild and no one would get to have the amazing experience of watching the tiny, baby turtles hatch and crawl across the sand every year.

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