Thanks to satellite telemetry, scientists and conservationists are able to accurately track turtle movements through the oceans. While most sea turtles migrate between foraging and nesting grounds, in some cases seasonal migrations can cover the most incredible distances. Here is one such remarkable journey…
Fishing industry support for by-catch turtles
When a 43 kilogram male loggerhead turtle was accidentally caught in trawling nets off the Famagusta coast earlier this year, local fishermen freed him from their nets and contacted the Society for the Protection of Turtles.
Under a joint research and conservation project with Bird Life Cyprus, such by-catch turtles are named, health checked, vital statistics noted, and finally satellite trackers are carefully attached to their shells before they are returned to the security of the Mediterranean waters.
Satellite tracking of this season’s rescued turtles
Thus ‘Pambos’ (pictured above) – as his rescuers named him – weighing a substantial 43 kilograms, with a shell length of 71 cm was released on 13 March. From the outset his movement pattern was very different from the 13 other by-catch turtles that are currently being monitored. While the other turtles mostly stayed within Famagusta Bay, with the occasional exploration further along the coast, Pambos was quickly heading further afield.
Pambos goes further
Pambos headed past the Ayia Napa peninsula and round to Larnaca Bay, along the south coast to Akrotiri Bay and beyond. He spent some weeks thoroughly exploring Episkopi Bay, and the coast from Pissouri to Paphos.
Having left Cypriot coastal waters, Pambos headed due west across miles of open sea between the Greek islands and north Africa.
And even further…
And this is the astonishing journey to date… well over a thousand miles across the Mediterranean past Sicily to the coastal waters of Tunisia.
Where is Pambos now?
Below is the live satellite map showing the latest updates. Click on any turtle name on the right-hand side to see individual tracks. Or click ‘see all’ to show all the turtle tracks superimposed simultaneously.
The simplest and most accessible way of getting a great view of what lies beneath is to don a mask and learn to breathe through a snorkel.
With so much flora and fauna within the clear warm Mediterranean waters, you should be able to find plenty to see… volcanic rock formations, multi-hued corals, sea anenomes, shoals of darting fish, starfish, shy seahorses, grazing turtles, graceful stingrays,…
Undersea Walking Helmets or Scooters
A unique alternative to Scuba diving that allows you to experience first-hand the colourful world teeming within Cyprus’ crystal clear waters. Fresh air is pumped into your helmet – a totally different experience than breathing through a regulator. As your head stays dry, you can even wear your glasses or contact lenses.
Undersea Cyprus also offer the opportunity to book a ride on a BOB (breathing observation bubble) which is a scooter-like personal mini submarine with built in fresh air helmet. Getting into the bubble does involve a brief moment underwater.
Based at Ayia Triada beach in Paralimni at the eastern end of the island. Morning and afternoon dives daily in season. The complete excursion lasts 2.5 hours – involving a short boat trip to the floating pontoon, then a rotation of escorted 30-minute undersea adventures for small groups in pre-booked time-slots.
Pissouri Bay Divers offer a ‘Discover Scuba Diving‘ course which gives you the experience of using breathing apparatus underwater – either in a pool or the sea. This exciting taster is a great introduction to diving for novices, which could be the start of a big new adventure.
There are plenty of other dive centres offering a variety of courses and activities – both local and around the island.
PADI Open Water Courses
You need to be quite organised to be able to fit a full PADI Scuba Diving qualification into your holiday. That’s not to say it can’t be done, though. The theory course – taking 12-15 hours – is best done online before your stay to maximise your time for the practical.
Pissouri Bay Divers offer an intermediate PADI Open Water qualification enabling you to hire equipment and dive under qualified supervision, or if you can squeeze in 4 open water dives, you could complete the full PADI certification.
Qualified divers can develop their skills and work towards the Advanced PADI Open Water certificate.
Cyprus has 6 shipwrecks which make exciting dive sites…
The first and most well-known was created by the accidental sinking of the Zenobia roll-on roll-off ferry on her maiden voyage in 1980. A computer error causing overfilling of the port ballast tanks has been blamed for tipping the vessel. As the £200 million cargo of 104 articulated lorries and their contents has never been salvaged, there is plenty to view at the site off the coast of Larnaca. (The crew were all successfully rescued.)
Around the wreck you will see groupers, tuna, barracuda, turtles, and stingrays.
The Zenobia is widely regarded as the best wreck-diving site in the Mediterranean, and often voted in the world’s top ten.
In recent years the Cyprus Government has taken the decision to add a further 5 additional artificial reefs at points around the island by sinking redundant vessels. Rest assured these were meticulously cleaned and prepared to ensure that no pollution was created in the process.
The new reefs have the same characteristics as natural reefs – providing space and shelter for reproduction, growth, feeding and refuge for marine organisms. Algae and sponges grow on the surfaces of the sunken wrecks, creating mini ecosystems and habitats.
Locations: Protaras – 1950s fishing vessel Nemesis III – Dec 2013 Limassol – Lady Thetis, a 1950s German vessel – Feb 2014 Limassol – former Soviet fishing trawler Costandis – Feb 2014 Paphos – Laboe, a pre-World War II cruiser – June 2014 Ayia Napa – Kerynia, a navy patrol boat – Feb 2015
Of all the excursions from sea-fishing to wildlife-watching available from Paphos harbour, we recommend Atlantis Turtle-Watching Cruise – that we discovered thanks to our guest Natalie.
Atlantis is equipped with portholes for underwater viewing of fish, turtles, stingrays, and wrecks. Cruises start from the furthest jetty, and the skipper, George, is a genial and knowledgeable host.
Glass Bottomed Boats
You will find a variety of excursions in glass-bottomed boats from harbours around the island. Another great opportunity to view the undersea delights below.
Leaving in late afternoon from the second jetty at Paphos harbour, this delightful excursion is one of our all-time favs. Since learning about the trip from guests (thanks Natalie!) and having enjoyed it ourselves, we think it the most magical experience…
Atlantis has an underwater viewing platform with stools and portholes. Running these daily trips, George has a fantastic insider’s knowledge of the flora and fauna of the coral reefs off Paphos. He takes you out a short distance off-shore to an area of sea grass favoured by turtles. The surprise for me was the size of the larger ones… fully grown they approach a metre in length, although the younger ones are considerably smaller.
There are no guarantees, of course, but if you follow George’s Atlantis Facebook page, you will discover that you would be extremely unlucky not to see any. And there are plenty of other sights to savour – enormous stingrays, an amazing variety of colourful fish, beautiful coral reefs and encrusted shipwrecks.
On the way home, George drops anchor to allow you to enjoy a refreshing sunset swim off the boat. (Book on +357 9666 1737 or via Facebook message).
Lara Bay Turtles
Off the beaten track in the protected Akamas Nature Reserve, Lara Bay has the island’s main turtle beach; home to both loggerhead and green turtle nests. If you visit this unspoilt long stretch of golden sandy beach in summer, you will see hundreds of cages protecting nests from predators. Sun loungers and parasols are not allowed on the beach, lest they damage hidden nests.
There is a Turtle Rescue Centre, but be aware this is primarily for conservation, rather than visitors. The two huts on the beach contain interesting information boards about the turtles, and rescue tanks… Sometimes there are baby hatchlings being nurtured to strength in the tanks, but equally there are also times when they are empty. While this is a positive thing – meaning there are currently no baby turtles in need of support, it can be disappointing for visitors, especially children.
The easiest way to get there is to book a jeep safari or hire a 4×4 or quad bike to reach the beach, as it’s approached via a rutted and rocky unmade road. If you’re visiting in a normal hire car, you can park in the car park 200 metres beyond the end of the tarmac road, and continue on foot. The Turtle Rescue Centre is a mile further north, so make sure you’re prepared with good footwear, hat, water and sunscreen. To find it, continue beyond Lara Café, and when you see a sign pointing right to Ineia, take the track opposite onto the beach.
Every summer mature female turtles that hatched here many years previously return to Pissouri beach to nest. Members of Pissouri Turtlewatch patrol the beach in the early mornings looking for tell-tale tracks, so that they can place protective cages over the nests to keep them safe. Once a nest has been established, the countdown to the exciting hatching begins.
The next task for the dedicated volunteers is an overnight vigil (as nests can hatch out any time from dusk till dawn). If mother nature has arranged everything right, this will be on the night of a full moon to help them navigate towards the moonlit water.
Failing that Pissouri Turtlewatch use special red-filtered torches which provide a safe soft light to guide the hatchlings seawards. At this stage every effort is made to avoid picking up or even touching the tiny babies, as this can interfere with the development of their strength and navigational imprinting.
How You Can Help
Turtles are endangered and protected by law, with the odds of surviving to adulthood staggeringly low.
Occasionally things go wrong, leaving the mother turtle or the hatchlings stranded on the beach in daylight when they are obviously at their most vulnerable. In that event, or if you find an injured, distressed or dead turtle, support is available from: Pissouri Turtlewatch (Jimmy +357 9946 2308), or Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre& (+357 2582 6562), or The Oceanic Institute of the University of Cyprus (24/7 helpline +357 9695 2929).
In the meantime, the expert advice is to keep well back, stay quiet, and try to leave them alone, only interfering as a last resort. Removing large pebbles and creating an obstacle-free path directly to the sea can be helpful for the tiny hatchlings. During daylight there is no problem with taking photos and videos, as long as you ensure the flash is turned off.
Tiny Loggerhead Turtle Hatchlings On Pissouri Beach
Many thanks to Chris Price and Claudine Snell of Pissouri Turtlewatch for permission to use their lovely photos.
A previous version of this article was originally posted on our old website blog by Nikki 13/7/2017
There’s something magical about lying in bed listening to the sea
And don’t we all love the simple pleasures of spending time at the beach – watching the waves breaking, skimming stones, paddling at the water’s edge, studying pebbles and touching wave-smoothed glass.
If you’re lucky enough to visit at different times of the year, you can witness the changes of the seasons. Summer visitors watching the benign waves lapping would never imagine the drama and terrifying power of the crashing winter storms where the water can come right up to the path. In recent winters enormous chunks of concrete have been taken by huge breakers undermining the Columbia footpath and disintegrating the slipway.
Then suddenly last spring tonnes of sand arrived courtesy of that season’s more moderate waves, covering the pebbles and clothing the beach in another guise.
For me the most exciting thing about Pissouri beach, though, is the fact that it’s a turtle beach
Every year it plays host to endangered nesting Loggerhead sea turtles… with mature females returning via some amazing navigational sense to dig their nests on the same beach where they themselves hatched.
Until this season I had no idea how much of a labour this is. One of a dedicated band of volunteers from Pissouri Turtlewatch, Cindy Murrin-Garcia has been documenting events via social media. Her dawn beach patrols have followed and filmed quite a few turtle tracks up from the shoreline, showing that females habitually make repeated forays throughout the night before selecting a nesting site.
After establishing a successful lay, Pissouri Turtlewatch protect the site from predators with a cage and cordon. At this point the clock starts ticking. 45-51 days later the hatchlings will emerge – normally at night and in groups over a period of a few days.
Drawn to the sea by the reflections of the moon on the water, it is important not to confuse them with any other lights. Red torches are used by the trained volunteers on their overnight vigils, because turtles cannot see red light. Efforts are made to avoiding touching the tiny creatures during shepherding, as the purpose of this vulnerable trek across the beach is twofold; it has a part to play in the imprinting that enables females to return to this site at maturity, and it is nature’s way of building strength for survival in the water.
On rare occasions turtle events happen during daylight hours. Yesterday Cindy found a female turtle on the beach during her early morning patrol, allowing her to take these wonderful photos. And later in the day Pissouri Turtlewatch excavated a hatched nest to help the last few stragglers on their way.
Ungainly on land, once in their element, the tiny hatchlings make rapid progress away from the shore. A study involving gluing tiny satellite transmitters to baby Loggerheads found that in their first few hours they ‘sprint and ride’ the waves at an impressive 60 metres a minute in their efforts to escape coastal predators.
Surviving to adulthood is precarious: it is estimated that as few as one in a thousand make it. Those that do have a life expectancy of between 45 and 65 years.
Although turtles can regularly be seen swimming in the bay, our favourite way of turtle spotting is to take a two-hour sunset cruise from Paphos harbour with George on his vessel Atlantis. Equipped with a series of underwater portholes, this is a great way of getting up close to turtles, stingrays and the most amazing fish.