Nature and Biodiversity

Endangered turtles are making a comeback

A Green Sea turtle swims over a reef near the surf break known as 'Pipeline' on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii  March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS TRAVEL)

Conservation efforts began in the late 1970s. Image: REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

Koty Neelis
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In the first half of the last century, Loggerhead and Green turtles native to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus were poached to the point of near extinction. Thanks to aggressive conservation efforts, the endangered turtles are making a comeback, according to marine biologists.

Conservation efforts began in the late 1970s when there were only 300 turtle nests on the island's beaches for the tiny turtles to return to. Andreas Demetropoulos, the founder and co-head of a turtle conservation program under the island-nation's Fisheries and Marine Research Department, says the population of nests is around 1,100. The result is “quite spectacular,” he said.

The increase is of major significance for Green turtles as they only lay their eggs in two countries. According to marine biologist Myroula Hadjichristophorou, Cyprus has 200-300 Green turtles who lay eggs while the number for Loggerheads is more than double that. The turtles have their own ingrained "biological GPS" that brings them back to lay their eggs to the same beaches that their ancestors came to thousands of years ago.

Image: Sea Turtle Organisation

Turtles have been around for 200 million years, but have called the Mediterranean home only for about 10,000 years, said Hadjichristophorou.

In 1989 legislation was passed allowing conservationists to protect two key beaches in the island's west and northwest. They also worked to create a conservation culture in recent years for residents that's become key in helping the species thrive. Residents have become educated on how to protect them from their main predator—foxes, and notify authorities when they find an injured turtle.

"When people come here with their families, their children, they see the babies coming out of their nests, this is something that they will never forget," said Hadjichristophorou.

Turtles in the Mediterranean aren't the only animal species experiencing a rise in population after facing threat of extinction. Though mountain gorillas remain critically endangered, their numbers were reported to have reached over 1000 earlier this year, thanks to aggressive conservation efforts where the gorillas are mostly found in the Virunga Mountains, located along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Though they continue to be at risk for habitat loss, disease, and poaching, their population has been growing for the past 35 years.

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Española Galapagos giant tortoises have also bounced back from near extinction. The reptiles have been able to call their native Española Island home again after conservation efforts to introduce them back into their natural habitats proved successful in 2014. Between crucial legislation being passed and action taken to protect them, we can only hope endangered animals continue to experience population growth.

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