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The Kefalonian Marine Turtle Project


Coastal developments may have already interfered with the natural cycle of the sea turtle. We are working to increase awareness, encourage conservation and promote the concept of sustainable development in the vicinity of the sea turtle's environment

Sea Turtles and their Conservation in Greece

The Importance of the Kefalonian Sea Turtle Population

Analysis of Threats

Conservation Objectives

Additional Conservation Steps

Tourism Study


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All species of sea turtles are listed in Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the loggerhead is globally classified as 'vulnerable' by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Vulnerable is defined as "Taxa with populations that are still abundant but are under threat from serious adverse factors throughout their range" (Groombridge, 1990).

With respect to European law and the Mediterranean, the loggerhead is listed in Appendix II of the Bern Convention (Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats) and in Appendix 1 of the Bonn Convention (Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals). Other conventions where marine turtles are given some protection within the Mediterranean include the African, Barcelona and Ramsar Conventions (for review see Salter, 1995). Groombridge (1990) recommends that both Chelonia mydas and Caretta caretta should be treated as critically endangered within the Mediterranean.

Turtles are protected in Greece by various Presidential Decrees (1980 - 1990) which forbids the killing, mutilation, trade, collection and exportation of turtles, and introduces regulations on tourist and residential development in the area that lies behind nesting beaches (Salter, 1995). Unfortunately the direct protection of the nesting beaches has been slow to follow. Despite the presence of international and national legislation, some beach development does still occur and the laws are not being fully enforced; the well documented problems facing the nesting beaches of Zakynthos clearly illustrate this (e.g. Venizelos, 1996).

As a whole, the island of Kefalonia remains relatively undeveloped in comparison to other Mediterranean coastal resorts, notably the neighbouring island of Zakynthos. There has certainly not been the severity of pressure from the tourism industry to develop beaches which has occurred on other Greek islands. However, some nesting used to occur at Skala beach, Kefalonia. Now, due to tourist development, only sporadic nesting occurs there, and no proportional increase in nesting on neighbouring Mounda beach has been recorded (Salter, 1995). More recently Mounda beach has seen a very conspicuous hotel development at a prominent position on 'Potamakia'.


When compared to other nesting sites (e.g. Laganas Bay with an average annual number of nests of 1000 - Dimopoulos (1991)) the number of turtles associated with Kefalonia is modest. However, the significance of the Kefalonian population has never been with respect to its size, but rather to a number of factors that might potentially serve to increase our knowledge of Mediterranean Loggerheads as a whole. These are outlined below:

Long Term Population Study
Intermittent Hatching/Emergence
Lack of Predation
Beach Infidelity
Foraging Grounds


(a) Long Term Population Study
The need for basic research in sea turtle population biology is critical for conservation. Population censuses are the only tool by which the stability of populations can be monitored and dangerous trends detected (Meylen 1995). Large annual fluctuations in nesting activity necessitates long term monitoring of beaches to derive average population estimates. As such, the fourteen year data set collected on Kefalonia combined with the modest size of the population, makes this the second longest study in the Mediterranean and suitable for use as a pilot programme.

(b) Intermittent Hatching/Emergence
In general, hatchling sea turtles emerge from nests in a single event, with a number of 'stragglers' following over the next few days. However, at certain sites around the world, a prolonged period of 'intermittent emergence' occurs. Witherington et al (1990) described this on Melbourne beach, Florida, as occurring over a period of four days. However, on Kefalonia this occurs over a more dramatic time scale with recent reports from the 1997 season of twenty four days sporadic emergence activity from a single nest (Hudson, pers. obs.). Witherington et al (1990) indicated that temperature was an important cue for the timing of emergence events. A similar investigation is in progress in Kefalonia with an aim to gaining a better understanding of this critical stage in sea turtle life history

(c) Lack of Predation
Predation of sea turtle nests by terrestrial predators has been shown to be high at numerous Mediterranean nesting sites. Godley et al (1996) recorded depredation of between 19-95% of nests in Northern Cyprus, Demetropoulos et al (1989) observed disturbance levels of up to 70% of nests in Southern Cyprus, whilst Margaritoulis et al (1996) saved at least 27,688 hatchlings via their anti-predation fences at Kiparissia Bay. On Kefalonia, there have been no recorded incidents of depredation of nests or predation of hatchlings. This means that every nest deposited on Mounda Beach has the potential to develop to completion, and most successfully emerged hatchlings reach the sea allowing good potential recruitment into the future nesting population (Houghton, 1995 unpublished: KMTP observations).

(d) Beach Infidelity
One of the most interesting findings to come out of Kefalonia is the discovery that turtles tagged elsewhere in the Mediterranean, predominantly Zakynthos and the Peloponese coast, have been seen to nest on Mounda Beach. This opens up some interesting questions regarding the genetic isolation of the Kefalonian population and nesting beach infidelity. More importantly in the event that other sites around the Mediterranean become unsuitable for nesting, Mounda Beach may serve as a refuge for turtles displaced from these areas.

(e) Foraging Grounds
The diet of the loggerhead turtle consists of benthic invertebrates, molluscs, crustaceans and sponges. Foraging grounds have been partially defined with respect to near-surface plankton in down welling areas. Recently, two possible foraging grounds have been identified in the vicinity of Mounda beach: These are Kakava reef running off Mounda point and the area between the village of Katelios and Koroni beach (Apalohera). Of most interest with respect to these sites is the observation of turtles tagged outside Greece e.g. Malta.

A further opportunity to gain an insight into sea turtle foraging behaviour is made possible by the permanent residence of a number of male Caretta caretta in Argostoli harbour. These animals feed of the prolific beds of shellfish along the harbour bridge, which allows easy observations to be made.

In terms of conservation, biological anomalies such as intermittent emergence are of great importance as they offer a better understanding of the species as a whole, whilst the presence of turtles from other populations has broad ranging conservation implications both for Kefalonia and the Mediterranean in general.

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Development and the Tourism Industry
Incidental Catch in Fisheries


Development and the tourism industry
Coastal developments threaten the turtle environment due to increased human activity and loss of nesting habitat. Construction work and tourism commonly disturb hatching, nesting and emerging loggerheads, incur noise and photopollution, and easily degrade their habitat (Witham, 1981; Poland et al., 1996). Hatchling migration to the sea can be halted by the creation of sand castles (Fig. 1), pits and vehicular ruts (Fletemeyer, 1996). Turtle nests can be damaged through sand compaction from vehicles driving on the beach (Fig. 2), piercing with sun - umbrellas, and critical cooling from the shade of umbrellas and sun - beds (Broderick & Godley, 1993).


Figure 1. Sand sculptures: obstacles for hatchlings. (Photo: R. H. C. Poland, EuroTurtle, 1995)

tyre tracks on mounda beach

Figure 2. Vehicle tracks on Mounda beach that caused the compaction of a nest in 1995.
(Photo: T. Stringell, 1995)

Disrupting the sand dune areas at the back of nesting beaches may hinder turtle orientation, tall sand dunes are thought to be important for the recognition of natal beaches by turtles returning to nest (Carr, 1968).

Additionally, associated with the tourism industry is the increase in water sports and boat traffic, which if uncontrolled can be problematic and difficult to confine to a specified area. Outboard motors can cause a great deal of damage to turtles especially when sun-basking (Fig. 3). Numerous loggerheads emerging onto Mounda beach have had signs of propeller damage.

sunbasking loggerhead

Figure 3. Sun-basking loggerhead, Kefalonia. (Photo: J. Sutherland/MEDASSET)


Artificial lighting from beach developments may disturb and disorientate loggerheads (Witherington, 1992; Witherington & Bjorndal, 1991). Hatchlings are easily misorientated landward towards artificial light sources. This can prevent them from reaching the sea which may result in death. Photopollution can also lead to the abortion of nesting attempts and can discourage females from coming ashore (Eckert et al., 1992). The main light sources on Mounda beach come from campers on and at the rear of the beach. Campfires are a minor problem mainly during August. , and from a hotel at the back of Potamakia which was opened for use in 1996.

Marine and land based pollution have been found to be problematic in the Mediterranean (see Godley & Broderick, 1993 for review). The Mediterranean is an enclosed sea into which much domestic and industrial effluent is discharged. Some of the toxic components of this waste can accumulate and magnify at the trophic level of the marine turtle, (e.g. Davenport et al. (1990) showed high levels of PCB's in a male leatherback turtle washed up on Harlech beach, Wales, in 1988. Few pollution studies associated with Mediterranean turtles have been carried out.)

Recently, however, Houghton (1995) investigated the accumulation of heavy metals in loggerhead turtle eggshells from nests laid on Mounda beach but results indicated no significant metal contamination above a baseline level.

Pollution problems in Kefalonia involve mainly litter and oil found on the beaches and in the sea. Litter on the beaches can inhibit hatchlings reaching the sea (KMTP observations) and at sea, plastic bags and oil ingested by turtles can result in death (Gramentz, 1988; Weitrich, 1994).

Incidental catch in fisheries
A large number of Caretta caretta are accidentally captured in fishing gear throughout the Mediterranean mainly through swordfish long-line fishing (Panou et al., 1992) and trawling activities (Groombridge, 1990). A loggerhead stranding was observed on Mounda beach in 1996 (Fig. 4). Its cause of death was shown to be due to an interaction with fishing activity (Fig. 5).

loggerhead washed up on mounda beach

Figure 4. Dead female loggerhead turtle washed up on Mounda beach, 1996. (Photo: C. Morris, 1996)

hooks.jpg - 21Kb

Figure 4. Three fishing hooks and line found in the oesophagus of the stranded turtle; the cause of death to the stranding. (Photo: C. Morris, 1996).

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Over the past decade, the tourist industry on Kefalonia has increased steadily leading to the impingement into many areas critical to the survival of Caretta caretta. To date, the disturbance has been minimal, but as development increases it is only a matter of time before its effects will become evident. As a result, in 1998, the KMTP and MEDASSET decided to work together to increase efforts towards the conservation of Kefalonia's sea turtle population.

This section discusses the conservation work carried out by the KMTP and MEDASSET in the form of objectives and results.

Objective 1 - To Strengthen Links with Local Communities.
Objective 2 - To Promote Marine Turtles as an Asset to the Local Communities
Objective 3 - The Development of a Sustainable Management Plan
Objective 4 - To Identify Further Nesting Sites on Kefalonia
Objective 5 - To Increase the Dissemination of Data by the KMTP
Objective 6: To Increase Communications with Tour Companies & Operators


Objective 1 - To Strengthen Links with Local Communities.

(a) Schools Education Programme
Aim: To increase the awareness of Caretta caretta amongst local schools and to generate enthusiasm with an aim to active participation.

Results: Since 1997, the KMTP have carried out talks with the Katelios Group for the Research and Protection of Marine and Terrestrial Life in a number of local schools in the vicinity of important nesting sites. This allows us to contact children between the ages of seven and eighteen and gain an overall view of how the young people of Kefalonia view sea turtles. Children of all ages are highly responsive to the talks and many of the children provide a great deal of information regarding sightings, entanglement in fishing nets and other interesting points which were previously unknown to the project.


(b) To Increase the Availability of Turtle Literature to the Local Communities
Aim: The KMTP and Katelios Group realised that any degree of success will only be achieved through the involvement of the local community. As such, it was necessary to develop an effective means of disseminating information that would also serve as a focal point for community involvement.

Result: The summer of 1997 saw the construction of an environmental information centre in the village of Katelios. This was a joint venture between the Katelios Group and KMTP and serves to disseminate information in five languages on matters relating to the environment in general, and marine turtles in particular.

Objective 2 - To Promote Marine Turtles as an Asset to the Local Communities

(a) Talks at Local Festivals
Aim: Talks have been held at a number of events since 1996. These were given by members of the local community to and for the local community. These talks prove a great success and plans have been drawn up to expand this programme for the future.

Result: Each year the village of Katelios hosts a four day cultural festival. In 1997 the opening night was devoted to marine life and included a number of activities relating to sea turtles. These are as follows:

1. A beach game for local children based upon the marine food web of Caretta caretta.

2. A talk given by two members of the local conservation group on the life history of Caretta caretta and how, if properly managed, the turtles might serve as an important asset to the area in general.

3. An enactment by local school children of the passage of loggerhead hatchlings from the nest down to the sea.

This was a significant step forward for the project and served to highlight its greater acceptance into the everyday life of the local community. In fact, the demand for the beach games became so great that they were held on a regular basis in Katelios and to a lesser extent in Skala.

By 1998 the entire festival had become devoted to the preservation of the local marine environment and it is hoped that such activities will continue in the future.

(b) 'Turtle Talks'
This year the KMTP carried out a series of weekly talks to the tourist and local communities in resorts such as the villages of Katelios, Skala and Fiskardo. These covered a range of topics from marine turtle reproductive biology through to contemporary conservation strategies and received a healthy support from all who attended.

One of the most important events of recent years was the talk given in 1997 by the Katelios Group together with the KMTP and Mrs. Lilly Venizelos from MEDASSET. It was attended by a number of local dignitaries such as the Normarchise Makis Metaxas, the President of the Katelios Community Makis Koustoulatus, the Head of Technical Services Kostas Papazofiratos and the electoral candidate Kostas Zipandis, to all of whom we were extremely grateful. The event proved a great success and clearly demonstrated the interest people have in marine turtles.

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Objective 3 - The Development of a Sustainable Management Plan

(a) Setting Up a Framework for Discussion on Kefalonia
Aim: The KMTP aim to reach this objective through close co-operation with the local community, NGOs, Greek Tourist Board, international tour operators and local government.

Result: All of the above bodies have been contacted on matters relating to sea turtles. It has not been possible to develop a solid framework as yet, but firm foundations have been laid for this to occur in later years and has now become the primary focus of the project as a whole. A detailed description of this work has been compiled into a KMTP document entitled 'The Development of a Sustainable Management Plan - Conservation Objectives 1997-2000'.

(b) Identification of Critical Areas
Ray (1976, in Shabica, 1981) proposed a planning methodology in which 'ecosystem science' served as a basis for marine conservation. The framework he developed is equally applicable to sea turtle habitat protection (Shabica, 1981). In this methodology he suggests working towards the identification of critical areas and the buffer zones upon which the critical areas depend. A legal definition of 'critical habitat' may be obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (44 Federal Register 159: 47863-64. 15 August 1979):

(1) the specific areas within the geographic area occupied by a species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act [Act refers to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 16 U.S.C. seq.] on which are found those physical or biological features (i) essential to the conservation of the species and (ii) which may require special management considerations or protection and

(2) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed in accordance with the provisions of section 4 of the Act upon a determination by the secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species

Aim: To identify areas critical to the survival of Caretta caretta on the island and the buffer zones upon which they depend.

Result: The identification of such areas and the buffer zones upon which they depend is essential in the development of a sustainable management plan as the effects of their loss would be dramatic. A beach survey of Kefalonia has been carried out since 1997 and results indicate Avithos, Lourdas, Minies and Lefka as important areas in addition to Mounda beach. The KMTP also intends to carry out flora and fauna surveys on all turtle nesting sites.

(c) Identifying the Impact of Anthropogenic Activities Upon Reproductive Success
Aim: An investigation was designed around a 'tourist impact survey' on the main nesting beach, Mounda. This was to involve patrolling the beach at regular intervals recording the number of tourists, their location and choice of recreational activity.

Result: The results of the 1996 an 1997 tourist survey have enabled the project to identify areas of critical risk to sea turtles. This information has been passed on to the local authorities together with an application for public information signs along the back of the beach.

Objective 4 - To Identify Further Nesting Sites on the Southern Shores of Kefalonia

Aim: To design a programme to check all suitable beaches along the southern and western shores of Kefalonia for signs of sea turtle nesting activity.

Result: Since 1997 over 25 beaches have been monitored on a weekly basis. This lead to the confirmation of nesting on a further fourteen beaches.


Objective 5 - To Increase the Dissemination of Data by the KMTP

Aim: To increase the dissemination of scientific findings collected by the KMTP since its formation in 1996. targeting local, national and international Governments and scientific journals.

Result: The KMTP have submitted numerous reports and proposals to community leaders and the local administration in Argostoli. The most important of these was the application regarding guidelines for sustainable development in areas critical to Caretta caretta. These have now been passed on a local governmental scale and await approval from the Greek Ministry of Planning, Environment and Public Works.

On a scientific front, numerous papers are approaching completion and will hopefully go for publication some time in the near future. 1998 boasted the first appearance by the KMTP at the 18th Turtle Symposium in Mexico. For a list of current publications and 'grey literature', click here: Publications.

With the help of MEDASSET, KMTP reports have been submitted to the Council of Europe's Bern Convention in Strasbourg each December since 1996, highlighting the importance of the Kefalonian population and its need for protection.

Objective 6: To Increase Communications with Holiday Companies & Tour Operators

Aim: On a global scale one of the most serious problems facing sea turtles is the impingement of human recreational activities into important nesting grounds. As such, it was decided to further increase our links with tour companies to ensure that the information that was being imparted to their clients was accurate and up to date.

Result: The KMTP has built up close links with the many holiday companies on the island through our Conservation Officer. This has been primarily achieved through our fortnightly publication, "Turtle Update". Information is then passed on to the tourists by their representatives during their transfer to their respective resorts and during their introductory meetings.

During 1996, the KMTP worked closely alongside the King's College, Taunton, Expedition to the Eastern Mediterranean (see Poland et al., 1996). The major aim of their project was to discover whether the tour companies serving British tourists have any kind of policy towards their impact on the turtle environment and, if so, how and to what extent this was implemented on the ground. A paper presented at the 18th Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation (Poland et al, 1998) outlines the findings. [Tour Operators and the Awareness of Sea Turtle Conservation at three Eastern Mediterranean Tourist Destinations]


Turtle News
The greatest proportion of addresses in the KMTP's international mailing list of over 7500, were from tourists at the lectures and those from several Ionian Natural History Tours boat trips who expressed interest in turtle conservation. In March 1997, Turtle News, an informative and fund-raising newsletter produced by the KMTP, was sent to all those parties interested, making up an important part of the KMTP Education Programme. (Click to view Turtle News). The newsletter provided the opportunity to set up a Turtle Adoption programme which is proving to be very successful. In 1998 a Turtle News follow up was published and further newsletters will be produced each year.

Beach Cleans
Numerous beach cleans were carried out on Mounda beach by KMTP and Katelios Group volunteers. The complete findings of 1997's Litter Survey have been submitted for inclusion in the EMARC initiative, looking at fate of marine pollution.

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If readers of this page wish to contact the KMTP, they can do so via


phone/fax (+44) 1983 740321, or by post (see below).

The Kefalonian Marine Turtle Project
c/o 'Heronfield',
Main Road,
Near Newport,
Isle of Wight.
PO30 3JL
T. B. Stringell
Last modified: 25 July 1998

The Kefalonian Marine Turtle Project is a Limited Company with Charitable Status
(registered in England and Wales, No 1062312).

Copyright 1998, KMTP. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted by the KMTP for classroom supervisors/teachers and students to make reprographic copies of worksheets for non-commercial use. This permission does not extend to copying for promotional purposes, creating new collective works, or resale.