Our surveys both at sea and on beaches!

Our Association has decided to start collecting positional data and records of the presence of individual of loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) during our boat-based surveys. This decision is linked to the conservation status of the subpopulation of the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and their increasing presence in the Ligurian Sea. During our boat-based surveys, once the animal is seen, we approach it at low speed trying to take photographs and, if possible, underwater videos to try to identify the sex. We also examine the health state of the animal and its behaviour.

In summer 2022, however, we will develop an additional monitoring step to better monitor this species!

As a matter of fact, in the past few years, in Italy, there’s been an increase in the number of nesting events registered. Particularly, nests have been recorded not only in the southern part of the Italian coastline but also at higher latitudes. For the Ligurian region, we had a first nesting event in Finale Ligure in 2021 and a second one in Levanto in 2022. For this reason, in 2021, the Ligurian Group for Sea Turtles was founded by the following member organisations: Genova Aquarium, as the main coordinator, ARPAL, University of Genova, and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale di Piemonte, Liguria e Valle d’Aosta.

In the summer of 2022, after multiple sightings and reports of adult individuals in the waters close to our study area, we introduced a new type of monitoring. The beach monitoring is carried out, for the most part, at dawn, to record any potential sign of nesting or emersion activities that female sea turtles might leave on the sand! This activity must be conducted before tourists’ arrival and will allow, if present, to recognize the turtle tracks and, in the event of a nest, to protect and delimit the area appropriately.

What to do if you find tracks or turtles on the beach?

Get to know the Caretta caretta

The loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta

The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) is the most common species of sea turtle found in the Mediterranean Sea. Differently from the other two species found – the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) – the Caretta caretta is found in all Mediterranean regions, including the Ligurian Sea.

The Mediterranean sub-population is isolated from the population of the Atlantic Ocean. Individuals from the ocean enter the Mediterranean from the Gibraltar strait and use the area as foraging grounds with rare nesting events (Maffucci et al., 2006). The loggerhead turtle is found in the entire Mediterranean basin with a distribution that changes to the different life stages. This is especially true for the first part of their life, during which the individuals are strongly influenced by the oceanographic features of the basin. From June to September, at night, females emerge from the dark waters to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. They dig deep egg chambers in the sand that are then covered after the egg deposition. They can lay more than 100 eggs – that look like ping pong balls – that incubate for about 40-60 days. After the first egg laying the female can return to the nest, at the same beach or close by, within a night.

The major nesting grounds are found in the Eastern Mediterranean basin, particularly on the coasts of Greece, Cyprus and, to a lesser extent, Israel, Tunis, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, France and Spain. Recent nesting seasons in Italy, 2020 and 2021, presented record numbers with, respectively, 249 and 256 nests of Caretta caretta on the entire Italian coastline (Tartapedia, 2022). In 2023 a new record was reached with a final count of 454 nests recorded only in Italy! Furthermore, in 2021 a nest was found in Jesolo (Ve), and it was the northernmost nest in the Mediterranean Sea (ANSA, 2021). All these data suggest an expansion of the area used for nesting from this species. This expansion could be explained by the increase in sea temperature, particularly in spring-summer.

Rescue sea turtles in distress

In 2022 we obtained authorisation from the Environmental Ministry and ISPRA (Institute for the Environmental Protection and Research) to conduct the activity of collection and manipulation of injured and distressed loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Imperia and Savona provinces.

This is necessary because to collect and save sea turtles in distress the authorisation is compulsory as these animals are protected by multiple legislation and require knowledge on how to handle them. Since 2022 we already collected 5 Caretta caretta in the Western Ligurian Sea, which were then transported to the only rescue centre in the region: the Genova Aquarium. Four of these individuals have been released back to sea once healed.