Hoping to See Turtles?

Turtle viewing through the portholes on Atlantis

George’s Turtle-Watching Cruise on Atlantis

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 turtle watching cruise

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.

Protective cages over nests on Lara turtle beach

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.

Pissouri 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.

Baby turtle hatchlings day and night

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.

Red torch guiding hatchlings to the sea
Pissouri Turtlewatch vigil

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

Turtle Nesting Tales From Pissouri Beach

Turtle nesting on Pissouri beach

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.

The quiet end of Pissouri beach

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.

Turtle hatchlings emerging from eggs

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.

More details: Our Top 10 List

Mother turtle photos by Cindy Murrin-Garcia of Pissouri Turtlewatch

This article was originally posted on our old website blog by Nikki 25/7/2016