Turning turtle

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I’ve just booked our next year’s holiday. We and our good friend Christine will be joining our daughter Sophie and her family on the Greek island of Kefalonia. We’ve never booked anything so far in advance. The reason? We don’t want to miss the opportunity of a family holiday. It seems that certain places are so popular, they get booked from one year to the next.

The last time we were on Kefalonia we were there to join conservationists who were monitoring turtles. This was in 1984 or maybe 1985 when we were gathering material for a book on Greece. I find now what I wrote then. Here’s an excerpt:

“Most islands have at least one long sandy beach. In the past there might have been one or two fishermen’s houses there. Villages seldom grew in such places. They were too vulnerable to attack by sea, and rarely provided natural harbours and safe anchorages. Recently roads have been built to such beaches and hotels and villas have sprung up, answering our demand for places to sop up the sea and sun of summer. The turtles who have always used these beaches for laying their eggs now peer anxiously out of the sea at dusk to see if the last holidaymaker has left the sand for his supper. One such long sandy beach on the southern coast of Kefallinia is still untouched by building. In the daytime a few holidaymakers may find their way there, but at night the beach still belongs to the turtles. …

“A sliver of moon, three days old, grows bright in the sky and with the stars throws light on sea and sand. The cool of a deep well, and the silence of a church, settles over the great expanse of night sea, sky and land. Every so often, in the scrub at the back of the beach, there are secret scurryings – perhaps stone martens – and at intervals all along the beach, some 10 metres from the water’s edge, clutches of eggs, the size of pingpong balls, have been laid by turtles over the summer months and buried beneath the sand. After 63 days in the warm of the sand, the tiny turtles hatch and with vigorous flippers and the unerring strength of instinct scrabble to the surface, over the sand and into the sea. This summer, the hatchlings emerge to find themselves in a wire cage, marked carefully and clearly in Greek and English ‘Please do not disturb. Scientific experiment in progress.'”

At the time it seemed impossible that conservation groups could persuade councils and governments – in Greece and Turkey – to limit development in the turtles’ traditional egg-laying grounds. Lights from hotels and restaurants would confuse the turtles coming ashore to lay eggs, and disorientate the babies trying to reach the sea. The economic benefits from tourism would win over conservation, and turtles would disappear. Yet the reverse has happened. Tourism has flourished and so have the turtles. Hillsides behind sandy beaches have become resorts, and tourists at waterside tavernas watch flotillas of turtles swimming among the boats.

Doom and gloom turned turtle.

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