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The Loggerhead Turtles of Zante

Turtles swim offshore in Laganas Bay

Tourist boat trippers prey on the endangered beach turtles of Zante

Zante tourist boats can scare turtles
Turtle nest sites marked on Zante beach

Zante has a double-edged affair with its famous loggerhead turtles; cashing in on their obvious attractiveness to holiday tourists while doing little to prevent their gradual extinction.

Zante has become a cynical byword in how not to treat an endangered species. It has now got so bad that Greece is being taken to court by the European Commission for its repeated and long-standing neglect in protection for this fast disappearing creature.

It's unfortunate that the long sandy beaches of Laganas Bay should be one of the most important breeding grounds for the shy turtle which likes to dig its nests in the shallow dunes.

The beaches here are also a favourite holiday hotspot for thousands of tourists who flock to the long flat sands and shallow seas.

Locals have been quick to exploit the turtle connection. Relentlessly pursued by glass-bottomed boats crammed with camera-clicking tourists, the shy creatures often fail to reach the beaches to lay their eggs.

Night-time noise and flashing neon on the seafront confuses newly hatched turtles heading for the sea while avaricious hotel owners happily plough up valuable nest sites to make way for more sun loungers.

Attempts to protect the turtles have met with fierce resistance from the locals busy for years digging up the dunes. Traditional nest sites are repeatedly bulldozed away and one nest site at Kalamaki is used as the village rubbish dump.

There are just six turtle nesting beaches now left in the Bay of Laganas where creatures who were born here return after 20 to 30 years to mate and lay their eggs.

The mating season is from April to June when the turtles swim ashore, usually at night, to dig holes in the soft sand and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch after about 60 days, unfortunately coinciding with the peak holiday season.

Although there may be up to 200 eggs in a nest, only one in 1,000 hatchlings will make it to the sea and live to become an adult turtle. Some success has been achieved by conservationists, with visitors banned on the most important beaches, restrictions on boat use and regular patrols of Zante beach nest sites.

But it continues to be an uphill struggle against local greed and tourist ignorance. Holidaymakers can help by staying well away from marked nest sites, keeping beaches clean of litter and refusing offers of turtle spotting trips.

Unless more is done to protect these shy creatures they may be driven from Laganas bay entirely, only to live on as emblems on T-shirts and as blow-up plastic toys.