Endangered Green, Loggerhead turtles make comeback in Cyprus
There is a stretch of beach on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. It has has been home to Green and Loggerhead turtles for thousands of years.
Tiny turtles have just hatched on Lara Beach. They strain against the surf to reach the Mediterranean Sea, embarking on their life's journey.
In 20 to 30 years they will return - they'll be back at this exact location to lay their own eggs.
These turtles were hunted to near extinction in the first half of the last century. Now the Mediterranean's endangered Loggerhead and Green turtles are making a comeback thanks to pioneering conservation efforts. That's according to Cypriot marine biologists.
Those efforts began in 1978. Back then, 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, according to Andreas Demetropoulos. He is the founder and co-head of a turtle conservation program. It is under the island-nation's Fisheries and Marine Research Department.
That may not sound a lot, but the turtles' reproductive cycles stretch out as long as three decades. So the results are "quite spectacular," said Demetropoulos.
This increase is especially encouraging for the Green turtle. It 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 which is less than the 6,000 female Loggerheads — or Careta Careta — 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. It 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.