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As the world Isolated, I was saving turtles!

On the North West of Northern Cyprus lies Guzelyurt base, Alagadi and Karpaz bases are located in the East of the Island. These bases host groups of young students who patrol the locations from spring till mid-Autumn. 

“A group of young people are getting ready to head out into the beach as the night patrol team strolls in the camping base to take a rest,” Quinto Khaemba describes the morning routine.

Cyprus is the nesting region for thousands of sea turtles, particularly, the green and loggerhead turtles. It is interesting to note that most of these turtles do not forage in Cyprus. Data from those tracking the turtles show that some swim all the way from Egypt, North Africa, to lay eggs in Cyprus and make their way back to the waters where they forage.

Most turtles only come to Cyprus to lay eggs, then head out to sea. Photo credit: Quinto

In the hatching season, carnivorous birds, small land and water animals such as crows, ravens, crabs, lizards, dogs, foxes, dolphins, sharks among many others prey on the turtle eggs or hatchlings as they run from the nest to the open water sea.

Thus, non-profit organisations such as Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT), work with volunteers to conserve the sea turtles. Founded in the late 80’s SPOT works with like-minded organisations both in TRNC and abroad.  Since then, the population of the sea turtles, which at one time was dwindling keeps increasing, thanks to the conservation efforts which include protection of nesting beaches and education.  

“The process of identifying a turtle nest, caging it to protect it from predators and then waiting till the eggs hatch is quite cumbersome,” says Quinto, a Kenyan university student in TRNC. This year, Quinto joined the team as a local volunteer to provide the much-required manpower to cover several beaches across North Cyprus that must be checked on a day to day basis.

Team members as they release the hatchlings into the sea at a beach in Northern Cyprus. Photo credit: Quinto

According to Quinto, volunteers tend to work from early in the morning and late in the night because the temperatures are lower at these times. Moreover, there is less tourist activity on the beaches during these periods.

The tracking processes

Identifying turtle nest can be difficult. You see, sometimes, a turtle might go out to the beach to ‘test’ the sand, then head back without laying eggs. When volunteers follow these tracks, they lead nowhere. On the other hand, green turtles dig very deep before laying their eggs and this means that volunteers have to look extra hard so as not to miss a nest.

Once a nest has been identified, the volunteers tag the nest and barricade it with metal and dome cages to prevent dogs and foxes from digging and feasting on the eggs.

“More than a thousand nests are identified every year during the nesting season” Quinto observes adding that it takes about six to eight weeks before the eggs hatch and the hatchlings head out to sea.

During this time, volunteers have to identify hatched nests, take data and release any remaining hatchlings into the sea.

Quinto, seating at the front, enjoys time with other volunteers. Photo credit: Quinto

“I’ve been doing this for the last six years and I have loved every bit of it,” Meryam, a 22-year old volunteer and team leader says as she heads out to the beach with a kit bag on her back and buckets under her arm, Quinto narrates.  

Volunteers are very committed to this project. This year has been particularly challenging due to the Coronavirus. Despite the mandatory 7-day quarantine for those coming into the island, the young volunteers have not been deterred.

For the love of animals, the young people live and spend time along the beach saving the turtles during the summer holidays, a time that most often than not, is spent by many young people at camps and summer parties with friends.

In addition to saving turtles, the volunteers also collect plastic and spread awareness about the project. Tourists and animal lovers donate towards the project. The funds are used to cater for the project’s overheads.

Plastics are not only a problem for the environment, but also for the eggs and hatchlings. Sometimes, the hatchlings are caught in the plastics and dry out before the volunteers can reach them.

“If individuals who went to the beaches cleaned up after themselves and picked their plastic, SPOT would be closer to achieving its goal of saving even more turtles” Quinto advises.

Quinto is a bachelor degree student at Girne American University, TRNC. In addition to travelling, he has found a new passion, volunteering to save sea turtles. This is his story as narrated to StoryMolly.

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