Only 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles will live to maturity.
That’s a 0.1% chance of survival.
The threats they face on their journey are numerous. Hatchlings and eggs are an easy target for many predators, and dangerous daytime temperatures on beaches can spell disaster for hatchlings on their way to the sea. In an increasingly disposable world, forgotten plastic trash that’s filling the oceans and washing up on beaches worldwide poses an all new set of risks to sea turtles of all life stages.
Still, those that make it the 20-30 years that it takes to reach reproductive maturity will never outgrow all of the dangers waiting for them. Humans are the greatest threat to sea turtle survival. Through fishing bycatch, entanglement in fishing gear, accidental plastic consumption, and even collisions with boat propellers, our impact on their environment and their population is taking its toll.
And as fast as that, the 1 out of a thousand is gone.
The Marine Turtle Conservation Project in Northern Cyprus is a 25+ year partnership between Cyprus’ Society for the Protection of Turtles and The Marine Turtle Research Group of the University of Exeter. Through research and education they aim to increase nesting success and overall survival rates for the two types of sea turtles who spend time in Cyprus: threatened Loggerhead and endangered Green turtles. They monitor sea turtle activity on some of the most important nesting beaches in the Mediterranean. Understanding sea turtle behavior, lifecycle, and the impact that humans have had on them is crucial to finding longterm solutions to the treats they face.
Each season, local and international volunteers for the project complete all aspects of data collection and conservation by spending time working directly with the turtles in Cyprus. At night, female turtles that come onto beaches to nest are closely watched and recorded. Measurements and genetic samples are collected, and nests are surrounded with cages and sticks to help protect them from predation. During the day, even more beaches are surveyed and nests that are found will be measured and protected. When hatching season arrives, nests are monitored for emerging hatchlings which may be weighed and measured to learn about factors affecting the nest’s success, and clutches that are past due to hatch need to be carefully excavated by hand to prevent dehydration or overheating of the baby turtles who may be stuck inside.
MTCP receives no government funding. Local Cyprus companies hold fundraisers or sponsor the project, and international volunteers cover their own expenses, but their work is largely funded through donations. Costs to the project include:
* equipment and supplies for data collection and nest protection. This includes everything from cages for nests to laboratory supplies. A single satellite tracker can cost a couple thousand dollars but is crucial to learning about turtles’ lives at sea.
* maintenance and fuel for the vehicles that are used daily to reach as many beaches as possible
* education outreaches at local schools to foster a continued understanding and appreciation of turtles in the next generation
I had the absolute privilege of being able to volunteer for MTCP in Cyprus during the 2018 season and it was hands-down the most incredible thing I’ve ever been a part of. During the 2 months I spent with the project, I was able to experience and contribute so much more than I ever imagined to the conservation of these majestic animals. Working with the project leaders and other volunteers to measure, tag, and take genetic samples, I could directly participate in the field work. I learned how to identify the turtle species from tracks in the sand and to find their nests and the eggs buried inside. It’s very rewarding to relocate a nest that’s at risk of being washed over by the ocean, or to excavate a nest, sometimes finding dozens of live baby turtles inside that can be released and given another chance at survival. I was able to help perform necropsies on turtle victims of bycatch and see the plastics inside that they’ve eaten. It’s incredibly hard work in a very hot environment (think sweat running off the inside of your sunglasses), long days of walking and sometimes even longer nights. But there is absolutely nothing like the night sky over the ocean where you can see the Milky Way and really contemplate just how massive the universe is, or snorkeling in the most gorgeous water you’ve ever seen made even more magical by the turtles you can find swimming there, sometimes only waist-deep. People from across the world that I never would have had the chance to meet otherwise I can now proudly call friends for life. I had the most wonderful time and it was such an amazing experience that I am so thankful I was able to be a small part of.
This year I’ll be shaving my hair (over 40 inches long! Or 102 cm) to raise funds and awareness for MTCP this season. This cause means so much to me because I was able to see first-hand how important this is and the impact that this project has.
I know that there are countless causes and fundraisers today all asking for your money. It can seem daunting; with so much need in the world, how could you possibly make a difference? How important is one donation, really? Or just one share?
Every donation makes a difference.
Every little bit is a bit that wasn't there before.
Your donation will absolutely matter to the project this year and directly support the incredible work that they do.
If your share helps us reach even just one more person, then it's made a difference.
It may seem small, but when we add many small acts together, that's how we can make something big happen, something bigger than ourselves. The ocean is made up of tiny drops all working together to become something magnificent, and this works the same. Your impact may seem small, but it's far greater than you imagine. It's more than we started with, and that in itself is amazing. Your support means the world to me and to everyone working with the turtles in Cyprus.
Thank you so much for considering donating to help fund MTCP's research and conservation work this season. And thank you for taking the time to share this fundraiser! Every bit counts and together I know we can really make a difference for the turtles!
Please take a few minutes to watch this video about the project and the turtles that was filmed in Cyprus this past summer. It is extremely informative and an excellent watch.
Also, visit their website which has loads of great information about the project, their research, and other ways to get involved.
If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask! I can't say enough about this project, and I'm more than happy to give information or answer any questions.
All of the beach patrols require a lot of walking, but a good number of beaches that MTCP monitors are also quite remote. This is the trek down a large sand covered hill that leads to a beach where turtles may have come up the night before to nest. All of the equipment has to be carried by volunteers to the beach, then along the distance of the beach as they look for nests as well.
This is a protected nest, surrounded by sticks to mark it's place with a label in the center identifying the nest number, date, and species. There is a cage laid flat over the top to prevent it from being dug up, then covered back up in sand. Nests on less remote beaches that are frequented more often by visitors also get a dome cage over the top to make them easier to notice so foot traffic can steer clear.
These are tracks from a Green sea turtle. This species usually drags their tail along the beach, leaving the line in the middle. You can tell the direction the turtle was walking by the marks on the outside from the flippers. They curve inwards and up to point in the right direction. This turtle was heading up the beach in search of a place to nest.
While turtles come up onto the beach to nest at night, it can take hours for them to find a place, dig to their satisfaction, lay, then cover it and head back to the ocean. This Green turtle is considered a 'dawnie', a nickname for turtles still on the beach laying and covering after dawn.
This is the same turtle from the last photo, this time on her way back home. As the sun comes up, the sand heats up quickly and she can easily dry out or overheat. At this point, it's very important for her to finish up and head to the ocean where she'll be safe from the daytime sun.
This is a nest excavation. Volunteers with the project will carefully dig the nest up to see if there are any live hatchlings stuck inside, and to count the egg shells left from those who already made it out. Any turtles found will be put into the blue buckets and kept cool until night, when they'll be released back on the beach. They head towards the light of the moon reflecting off the ocean, and that leads them to the sea.
Annie and Meryem, volunteers for the project during a nest excavation.
A picture of me with a Green turtle hatchling.
Green turtle hatchlings making their debut into the world.
These Green hatchlings are in a bucket waiting for nighttime when it's safer for them to be released. There's sand in the bottom for them to sit on, and a damp cloth over the top so they hydrated. Buckets are kept in a dark place, and the hatchlings will sleep because they think they are still underground in the nest.
This is a Loggerhead hatchling found during an excavation. Compared to the Green turtles, they look like they're wearing armor and have much larger heads and beaks. I've heard them called little dinosaurs.
Volunteers (after a night on the beach) with a Loggerhead hatchling.
A Loggerhead hatchling and the challenging journey ahead.
These signs designate protected nesting beaches in northern Cyprus. They give visitors some information about safe practices for the beach, and outline rules that make the areas safer for turtles, nests, and hatchlings.
Two Green sea turtles swimming off the coast in the northern peninsula of Karpaz. Turtles spend their daytimes during nesting season mating in the bays.
Another Green turtle spending the day in the bay, fairly close to shore. She's likely waiting for nightfall, when she'll be able to come up onto the beach and search for a place to lay her eggs.
And this is me and my hair back at home (no sea turtles here, unfortunately). It's my goal to be able to help support the MTCP's work in Cyprus this season with this fundraiser. No matter how much we raise, I will proudly consider it a success, since any amount is more than we started with. And that's the point: to be able to make even a little bit of a difference.