THE PROJECT FOCUSES ON AREAS THAT ARE PIVOTAL FOR THE CONSERVATION OF THE TWO SEA TURTLE SPECIES OCCURRING IN THE EU TERRITORY (CARETTA CARETTA AND CHELONIA MYDAS).
The project aims to geographically expand the ongoing LIFE EUROTURTLES, which includes the most important sea turtle nesting areas (Greece and Cyprus) and key foraging grounds (Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia and Croatia) in the EU. Recognizing that minor and scattered nesting areas can play an important role for sea turtles populations, especially in the light of future scenarios of climate change, the project aims to improve the protection status at minor nesting sites in Spain and Albania, with the latter probably being part of the same nesting assemblage of the close nesting sites of Greece. However, the project mainly focuses on key foraging areas for sea turtle populations of Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas which reproduce in the EU but disperse over distant areas also outside the EU territory. Specifically, the project aims to reduce the high fishing-induced mortality (the main anthropogenic threat for these populations) known to occur in 4 marine areas frequented by high numbers of turtles originating from Greece and Cyprus: the Adriatic Sea, the Tunisian shelf and the waters off Turkey and Spain. In particular, most of the turtles born in Greece mainly forage on the Adriatic and Tunisian shelves.
The project will implement Actions in 2 EU countries (Italy and Spain) and 3 non–EU countries (Albania, Tunisia and Turkey); the relevance of the specific areas prioritized is described in the following national sections.
Albanian coastline consists of i) shallow waters and sandy beaches along the Adriatic, and ii) deep waters and rocky beaches along the Ionian Sea. Albanian waters are frequented all-year-round by both adults and juveniles of the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and by lower numbers of green turtles (Chelonia mydas), mostly juveniles. Although sea turtle nesting was previously suspected, only recently nesting activity by Caretta caretta has been documented. The main areas where this project will be implemented are: Drini bay, Lalzi bay, Durres, Divjake and Vlore. These are areas where i) the presence of turtles is high due to the presence of the rivers, which seem to provide the necessary nutrients for the seagrass meadows, algae and invertebrates, ii) fishing activities is focused and ports are found, iii) nesting of loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta have been reported and/or suspected and further information is needed, iv) recreational activities and development projects are effecting the sand dunes which might be nesting habitats for loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta.
The marine areas surrounding Italy, and especially the Adriatic, are frequented by high numbers of loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) originating from Greece, Cyprus and other Mediterranean countries. The Italian coast of the Adriatic is frequented by high numbers of turtles, as shown by stranding and bycatch levels, both in the north and in the south parts, and represents a migratory corridor. The green turtle Chelonia mydas is rare in Italian waters but can be found in the Adriatic, especially in the south. The high level of anthropogenic threats in these areas deserves more attention and conservation measures. For these reasons the project will be implemented in selected areas in the north and south Adriatic coast of Italy.
Nesting areas In spite as the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) was considered as ‘non-nesting or occasional’ on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, since 2001 more than 40 evidences of nesting activity of the species have been reported in the Mediterranean coasts of mainland Spain and Balearic Islands. This sporadic nesting activity could play an important role in the long distance dispersal of the species and to understand its possible adaptability under different global warming scenarios through long distance colonisation. It is therefore necessary to provide clutch-protection in this area which now is in need of increased resources. Current actions for this conservation activity are different among Spain’s Mediterranean regions (including Catalonia, Valencian Community, Murcia, Andalusia and the Balearic Islands). The Valencian Community is the only region with continued records of nesting activity since 2014, with four different female loggerheads Caretta caretta observed nesting in this region in summer 2018. The Valencian Community is comprised of the 3 coastal provinces of, from north to south, Castellón, Valencia and Alicante; totalling 419 km of coastline that extends from 40°31′N, 0°31′E to 37°51′N, 0°45′W. It is a region with a high degree of development and tourism along its coast, with a population of more than 3 million people that doubles in summer months. This makes laid nests subject to heavy anthropogenic pressure and also to predation.
The waters of the Valencian Community are an important feeding and development area for large stocks of juvenile loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta that originate from Atlantic and Eastern Mediterranean rookeries. In the northern-most area of the Valencian region, the province of Castellón occupies the area between the Ebro Delta and the Valencia trench, and is characterised by a wide continental shelf that narrows to the south. Continuing downwards along the coastline, the province of Valencia is characterized by a medium width shelf. Alicante, the southernmost province, has a narrow continental shelf and a steep slope to the shelf edgeclose to the coast. Evidence from aerial surveys and capture-tagging-recapture studies have revealed the occurrence of a large number of immature loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta over the continental shelf off the eastern coast of mainland Spain, thus facing a high risk of incidental capture with neritic fishing gear. In fact, the major anthropogenic mortality factor affecting loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta in the region is the incidental capture by fisheries; studies in the bottom trawling fleet operating in the Valencian Community captures some 238 turtles per year.
Tunisian territorial waters and the adjacent seas represent critical habitats for Mediterranean loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) originating from potentially all nesting sites in the Mediterranean. This is due to the particular geographic location of Tunisia, and to the ecological and oceanographic characteristics of this portion of the Mediterranean, especially the large continental shelf. An effort to conserve the rich fauna and flora living in this area is going to provide a significant contribution to marine conservation throughout the region. In particular, the gulf of Gabès in the south of Tunisia is a “marine biodiversity hot spot” of significant regional importance and with the most important fisheries area of the Tunisian fishing fleet. The Gulf is the preferred habitat for many iconic Mediterranean vertebrate species, including the loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta. The green turtle Chelonia mydas occurs but is rare in Tunisian waters. For sea turtles, studies conducted in this area have shown that loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta interact largely with fisheries. The activities of the project will take place mainly in the area of the Gulf of Gabès from its northern part (Port of Chebba), through the central part (Sfax, with the most important fishing port in Tunisia) to the region of Zarzis in the south, near to the Libyan border.
Available data obtained from satellite tracking studies and genetic mixed-stock analysis for loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta indicate that marine habitats in the southern Aegean and western Mediterranean coasts of Turkey provide foraging and wintering habitats for the nesting population of Greece, and nesting population of western Mediterranean and Cyprus populations. Turkey also provides foraging and wintering areas for green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting population of Cyprus. High numbers of strandings are reported from western locations and eastern locations where intense fishing activities are known to occur. Therefore, two main area in the western and eastern Mediterranean were selected where to implement the project.