Protecting Sea Turtles: DEKAFOK and DERTOUR Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Efforts

Embracing Conservation and Community Engagement

Today, we are highlighting DEKAFOK as part of our “10 Faces” series, which honours the DERTOUR Foundation’s 10-year anniversary. DEKAFOK is a key partner dedicated to protecting sea turtles on the Turkish Mediterranean coast – this is their story of conservation and community engagement.

DEKAFOK’s Efforts to Protect Sea Turtles in Türkiye

The Turkish Mediterranean coast, well-known for being a popular tourist destination, also serves as a nesting site for two of the seven sea turtle species; these include the loggerhead turtle and the green sea turtle. In particular, Titreyengöl beach, situated near the tourist hubs of Antalya and Side, is a significant, although unofficial, nesting area for these endangered animals. However, the peak nesting season from May to September coincides with the influx of approximately 400,000 tourists, posing numerous threats to the turtles.

During the nesting season, the presence of tourists often disrupts the natural behaviour of the turtles. The beach activity, including noise, lights, and human presence, can compel female turtles to return to the sea without laying their eggs. Even if the eggs are successfully laid, they face various threats. Nests can be destroyed by beach fires, discarded fishing gear, and parasols, while compacted sand resulting from heavy foot traffic can hinder hatchlings from emerging. Furthermore, hatchlings rely on moonlight to find their way to the sea at night. However, artificial lights from nearby bars, restaurants, and shops can disorient them, leading them away from the ocean and often resulting in fatal outcomes.

Facing imminent danger is the green sea turtle population in the Mediterranean, with a mere 500 to 1000 sexually mature females remaining. The southern coast of Turkey, particularly the beaches east of Antalya, harbours the majority of the region’s 2000 green sea turtle nests, placing them directly in harm’s way due to tourism activities.

DEKAFOK’s Commitment

To address these pressing concerns, DEKAFOK has been involved in monitoring and protecting turtle eggs and hatchlings on Titreyengöl beach, collaborating with the DERTOUR Foundation since May 2023. Further efforts aim to fit 8 hatchlings with satellite transmitters on the beaches for a 14-month period. The collected data on the turtles’ feeding areas, migration patterns, and use of the Bay of Antalya will be shared online.

If the findings indicate that the juvenile green sea turtles utilize the coast of Antalya as a feeding area, strategies for their protection, including potential legislative measures and a year-round ban on fishing nets, may be implemented to safeguard their habitats. These critical conservation steps seek to prevent the mortality of young green turtles, support their transition to maturity, and bolster the survival prospects of the endangered green sea turtle population for the long term.

Insights from Prof. Dr. HakanSert

In an interview, Prof. Dr. Hakan Sert, a DEKAFOK board member and faculty member at Akdeniz University, emphasized the importance of sustainable tourism. “Sustainable tourism is crucial not only for people but also for animals. Making the beaches habitable and revitalizing the ecosystem are essential for protecting ocean life,” he stated.

Dr. Sert highlighted the challenges and ongoing efforts, “We recently completed a project covering a nine-kilometre stretch where turtles lay their eggs. We conduct regular beach clean-ups with volunteers because tourist activities generate a lot of garbage, which is dangerous for turtles. Plastic cups, for instance, can trap hatchlings.”

He also stressed the importance of education: “We run training programs for tourists, children, and hotel staff to ensure they understand what actions harm the turtles. We need partnerships to sustain these efforts, and that’s where DER Touristik comes in. We’ve held workshops with specialists from Turkey to share professional insights.”

This year, DEKAFOK aims to expand its training programs to include staff from new hotels being constructed in the area. “Our goal is to create a protected area where cars are banned from the beach and bonfires are prohibited,” Dr. Sert explained. “These measures, supported by the DER Touristik Foundation, will benefit everyone – the people, businesses, and the animals.”

Dr. Sert also mentioned the importance of continuous support and community involvement. “We cannot afford to do the trainings and cleanings alone; that’s why partnerships are essential. The workshops we have conducted with specialists not only educate but also empower the local community to take an active role in conservation,” he concluded.