An endangered green sea turtle was found dead in Famagusta’s Ayia Napa with its shell missing just a few days after a diver uploaded a video on YouTube of a turtle swimming in a nearby area.
The turtle’s remains were found on Saturday by a group of divers in an area of Ayia Napa known as Green Bay, marine research group NIREAS said. Local divers have regularly spotted a green sea turtle in the same area over the last few weeks, a rare sight for the region.
Last Tuesday, a group of divers uploaded a video of a turtle – dubbed “Tommy the turtle” – swimming around the sea floor’s vegetation in waters roughly seven metres deep. The dead turtle looked similar to the one in the video and because it is rare to spot a turtle in the area, it is thought likely it was the same one filmed floating around just a few days earlier.
Cyprus turtles are often accidentally killed by speed boats’ propellers, while tourist development often directly competes with them for use of the sandy beaches where turtles lay their eggs.
Former environment commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou said turtle shells are sold as souvenirs. For this reason, the fisheries department sprays paint on any dead turtles that wash up to shore to discourage the growth of a market for the turtles’ shells.
“By spray painting or somehow marking the turtle’s shells we make it useless [to sellers],” Theopemptou said.
Asked whether the divers could have inadvertently made things worse by sharing images of the turtle and its whereabouts, Theopemptou said the question spoke of a tricky dilemma because on the one hand positive news raised awareness for conservation projects, but on the other hand could attract unwanted attention.
Green sea turtles or Chelonia mydas are a protected species and one of two sea turtles found in Cyprus, along with the loggerhead sea turtle or Caretta Caretta. Both are threatened with extinction. They lay their eggs in areas of the Akamas peninsula, and in beaches in the northern part of the island including the Karpas peninsula.
Between the 1920s and 1960s, the turtles were hunted for export to Europe where they ended up as turtle soup. The fisheries department says that about 100,000 turtles were killed for export purposes during that period.