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The Master Mariner

Posted by Hugh Anderson on

The Master Mariner

This summer both Meike and I went on holiday to the Turkish side of Cyprus. Not having any expectations of what lay in store we were delighted to see both Green and Loggerhead Turtles.

Karpas Beach

The Karpas Peninsula is North Cyprus’s most unspoiled region. Set in the north east of the island with miles of rugged coastline, the Karpas Peninsula is home to many rare species of plant-life and flowers. Its beautiful beaches are chosen by the Loggerhead and Green sea turtlesas their nesting ground, where they lay their eggs in the fine, golden sand.

Karpas Beach

 

Loggerhead turtles

Loggerhead turtles are thought to be one of the oldest species of turtles in the world and can weigh up to 450kg. They typically have a diet of jellyfish, squid, flying fish and molluscs and their powerful jaws allow them to crush the shells of clams, crabs and mussels. If a Loggerhead turtle reaches maturity, it can live a long life in excess of forty years. Via a combination of her instincts, the moon, gravity and the sea, a female turtle will return to lay her eggs on or near the beach where she was hatched, even if she has migrated thousands of miles throughout the oceans of the world.


Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtles

The Green Sea Turtle is named not by the colour of its shell but from the green fat beneath its skin. It is a herbivorous creature, feeding in lagoons and shallows on various species of sea grass. It is well known for its long migrations between their feeding grounds and the beaches upon which they hatched. The Green Turtles lay their eggs in a similar manner to the Loggerhead Turtles and other turtles of the world. Once they reach maturity, the Green Turtle can have a life span of around 80 years and grow to around 5 feet long, weighing around 70kg to 200kg.

The turtles appear in the evenings and come onto the shore where they then dig their nests and typically lay anywhere between 70 to 150 eggs. These nests are then marked up and protected by a group of volunteers who place wicker baskets around them, so both animals and humans will not interfere with them.

The incubation period depends on the temperature; hatchlings normally emerge around 50 to 60 days later, with the peak of the hatching period between July and August, which is when we saw the nests. The tiny hatchlings emerge from their eggs during night and the early morning hours and make their dangerous journey to the sea. Typically, a baby turtle is around 4cm long and weighs between 15 and 20g.

Baby Turtles Karpas

Hatching at night provides the baby turtles the greatest protection from predators,  though in the Karpas peninsula there are few predators due to a lack of seagulls and larger crabs. This means their infant mortality rate is not as high as other sites.

Because of overfishing, pollution, plastics and tourism, suitable nesting beaches are becoming rarer. More and more beaches are being built over, or sand is removed for resorts. The result is that often the adults simply cannot nest on the beach from where they originated.

The political situation in Cyprus, however, has helped these turtles and it was a wonderful adventure to see both the turtles resting at sea prior to coming onto the beaches and seeing the hatchlings start their adventurous life as a mariner at sea.


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