My adopted island is unique in the entire Mediterranean because it contains important habitats for many endangered, endemic and charismatic species that are actually quite easy to see when you are out walking on Zakynthos (Zante). Over the years, I’ve built up a list of ‘hotspots’, where there is a high chance of encountering certain reptiles, birds, mammals, amphibians and fishes. These feature in my book Zakynthos, A Complete Guide with Walks.
I hope to share them with you in a series of articles, beginning with the threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Latin: Caretta caretta), an animal I’ve been researching and protecting for 20 years. You can of course view them on organised boat trips endorsed by the National Marine Park of Zakynthos. But nothing beats coming upon a metre-long sea turtle in its natural habitat!
First, try the Hipsolithos Rock at Kalamaki (Walk 6), particularly when the sea is clear and there is a gentle south wind. Here, as well as the fantastic reef, you have a good chance of seeing turtles swimming and basking in the waters below.
For a closer encounter, visit Agios Sostis Port (Walk 8), where “Sotiris”, one of several year-round resident male loggerheads (identifiable by their very long tails), regularly comes in, particularly when the fishermen return to port at about eight in the morning.
Or head down to one of the nesting beaches – especially any stretch of beach from Vrondonero to Agios Sostis Port (Walks 6 to 8) between 5 and 7 in the evening. Keep within 5 metres of the sea, so as not to disturb any nests, and just watch the surface of the sea. Turtles breathe more frequently at this time of day, so you should see many heads popping up above the water to breathe!
If you get up early enough after the beaches have opened to the public (about 7am), you may spot the tracks of adult females (May to August) or baby turtles (“hatchlings”, July to October) on the six key nesting beaches in Laganas Bay described in Walks 1-4 and 6-7.
If you encounter a sea turtle on the beach, please remain at least 10 metres away to allow it to complete nesting and/or return to the sea undisturbed. If you happen to meet one while swimming, keep a good distance away. The female turtles rest in the nearshore waters of Laganas Bay to prepare their eggs for laying. This final stage of the development process requires about 17 days between each clutch of 120 eggs, with females laying around 3 clutches. So any disturbance causing the turtle to move wastes energy required for egg development. As only 1 in every 1000 hatchlings survive, the optimal development of every egg is essential!