Monday, 21 February 2022 12:38

Cyprus Turtle Migration

Marine turtles are migratory and often travel thousands of miles.

For those visiting the shores of Cyprus we see a general timing of when we can expect to see more turtles, and then when they start to disappear. We also see the same turtles returning to the same areas and many remain very territorial.

We tend to see turtles arriving around the start of March to begin their feeding and mating. Eggs are then laid on many beaches over the main summer months while a lot of feeding goes on after their long journeys to Cyprus. Some stay over the winter months, mainly juveniles, and many stay quite late into November and December before seeming to disappear. Males particularly seem to hang on until later in the year and continue to feed.

Turtles in Cyprus now are being well studied and there are many protected areas and beaches to help maximise the number of successful nests. After turtles leave their nesting beaches and swim away we didn't know a lot about where they went from there. We didn't know which areas they spend the majority of their lives in either but in recent years and as divers we see a lot of what they do and where they stay while they remain in Cyprus waters.

In the late 1990's sea turtles began to be tracked in the open ocean. From these studies we know that none travel further west than Tunisia and Italy as adults. They remain in the eastern Mediterranean and the majority migrate to the North African coast where a number of foraging sites have been identified. The Nile Delta, Egypt, Libya are all popular and Tunisia where many loggerheads nesting in Greece also forage. Less than 10% of those tracked actually stay in Cyprus post-breeding and summer foraging.

A number of female turtles have been tracked as they migrated through the Levantine Sea, south of Cyprus, past Lebanon, Israel and Gaza, and arrived at the same spot in Bardawil Lagoon in the North Sinai in Egypt. This site has now been identified as a feeding, wintering and development habitat for sea turtles. This has proved a direct link between certain nesting beaches and habitat in Cyprus waters and an annual migration to this important site off the Egyptian coast.

The importance of ongoing tracking and conservation are so vital in understanding and protectiong these very special turtle beaches, locations and migration routes for the forseeable future. As divers we want to see more turtles every year and the sheer pleasure of sharing the water on a dive with these magnificent creatures is always something to cherish.