Marine turtles have been around for 200 million years. Worldwide there are seven species. However only two of them live and breed in the Mediterranean.
The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) is the largest of all the hard-shelled sea turtles, but has a comparatively small head. A fully grown adult can grow to around 1m in length. Adult Green Turtles are unique among sea turtles in that they are herbivorous, feeding primarily on sea grasses and algae. This diet is thought to give them greenish coloured fat, from which they take their name.
A Green Turtle's carapace (top shell) is smooth, and can be shades of black, gray, green, brown and yellow.
Green Turtles reach sexual maturity anywhere between 20 and 50 years, at which time it is thought that females begin returning to the beaches where they were born to lay eggs. A breeding female will nest every 3 to 5 years.
The Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) were named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws and enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey such as molluscs, and crabs. They also feed on fish and sponges.
The carapace is around 20cm smaller than the Green. It is slightly heart shaped, and reddish brown in colour.
Loggerheads reach sexual maturity at around 20 to 40 years of age, and, like the Greens, they are thought to return to their birthing beach to nest, which they do every 2 to 5 years.
Both species are endangered worldwide, with a population reduction of 50% in the last ten years.
Because of fishing, pollution and tourism, suitable nesting beaches are becoming rarer. More and more beaches are being built over, or sand removed. (As recently as 15 years ago, 100 tons of sand was removed from Alagadi beach every day). The result is that frequently, the adults simply cannot nest on the beach from where they originated. The political situation in Cyprus, however, has helped the turtles. In the south there are only 4 beaches where they continue to nest, while in the north there are 85 known nesting beaches.
It is thought that the breeding population of Green turtles is down to around 350 females per year, while Loggerheads number around 2500 per year. Around 30% of Greens and 10% of the Loggerheads in the Mediterranean nest in Cyprus. It is estimated that nearly 80% of all Green Turtle nests in the Mediterranean are laid at just 5 key sites. Alagadi beach, just 15Km east of Kyrenia, is one of the few locations in the Mediterranean where both Green and Loggerhead turtles nest.