The Ionian islands harbour the Mediterranean’s main concentration of loggerhead sea turtles, a sensitive species which is, unfortunately, under direct threat from the tourist industry. These creatures lay their eggs at night on sandy coves and, easily frightened by noise and lights, are therefore uneasy cohabitants with rough campers and late-night discos. Each year, many turtles fall prey to motorboat injuries, nests are destroyed by bikes and the newly hatched young die entangled in deckchairs and umbrellas left out at night.
The Greek government has passed laws designed to protect the loggerheads, including restrictions on camping at some beaches, but local economic interests tend to prefer a beach full of bodies to a sea full of turtles. On Laganás, nesting grounds are concentrated around the 14km bay, and Greek marine zoologists are in angry dispute with those involved in the tourist industry. The turtles’ nesting ground just west of Skála on Kefaloniá is another important location, although numbers have dwindled to half their former strength and now only about eight hundred remain. Ultimately, the turtles’ best hope for survival may rest in their potential draw as a unique tourist attraction in their own right.
While capitalists and environmentalists are still at, well, loggerheads, the World Wildlife Fund has issued guidelines for visitors:
- Don’t use the beaches of Laganás and Yérakas between sunset and sunrise.
- Don’t stick umbrellas in the sand in the marked nesting zones.
- Take your rubbish away with you – it can obstruct the turtles.
- Don’t use lights near the beach at night – they can disturb the turtles, sometimes with fatal consequences.
- Don’t take any vehicle onto the protected beaches.
- Don’t dig up turtle nests – it’s illegal.
- Don’t pick up the hatchlings or carry them to the water.
- Don’t use speedboats in Laganás Bay – a 9kph speed limit is in force.