Swimming with loggerhead turtles!

Trip Start May 30, 2010
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Marabou Beach Studios

Flag of Greece  , Ionian Islands,
Monday, July 12, 2010

I've always wanted to see a loggerhead turtle in its natural habitat and their largest population in the Mediterranean is on the island of Zakynthos. I thought it would be easy to get a flight or ferry from Corfu but that wasn't the case. There is no ferry service between the two Ionian Islands and no flights I could find online either. It wasn't until I had gone to a travel agent to book some excursions and mentioned my plans that she told me about an airline that flew between the islands.

The flight wasn't expensive but stopped on 3 smaller islands before reaching Zakynthos. The islands are close together so each flight was no more than 30 minutes and it was very interesting seeing the islands from a few thousand feet up. The plane held quite a few people but apparently not enough room for a galley since the flight attendant brought an Igloo cooler on board that functioned as our galley. The airports were very modern but completely empty each time we landed! It was odd because the airports were a decent size but they each had no planes. The plane was a classic puddle jumper but it was on-time and I arrived safely on Zakynthos.

After taking a taxi (no bus service) from the airport to my hotel in Laganas I walked into town and was struck by how nothing looked Greek; everything was in English. The town of Laganas (population 6000) caters to package tourists primarily from the UK, Ireland and Germany and is known as a huge party town (the average age of visitors in Laganas shot up when I arrived!).

The around the island tour was a great all-day trip for only 17 euros! Many of the most famous sights on Zakynthos are only accessible by boat. We saw the famous Blue Caves as well as awesome Shipwreck Beach (separate entry). The island was larger than I expected with the northern half largely undeveloped and pristine. We stopped several times to swim in crystal clear water amid spectacular scenery.

Laganas Bay is part of a marine sanctuary to protect the loggerhead turtles and is divided into zones which restrict boat access. Where they are allowed tour boats take visitors out to look for turtles all day long. Our tour boat slowed down as we passed through the bay so we could all look for a turtle. After 15 minutes someone finally spotted one of the loggerheads as it surfaced for air. The turtles can stay down 45 minutes before they have to come up for air. It was so cool actually seeing one of the endangered animals and I hoped we weren't disturbing it. The turtle went back down after getting air and we saw another turtle not much later.

I researched the loggerhead turtles online and learned that every year at the beginning of June, the female turtles come to the southern beaches in order to bury their eggs in the sand. The incubation period for the nest is approximately fifty five days, after which time hatchlings emerge from the nest and make their way to the sea. The survival rate for hatchlings is very small, and it is estimated that only one in one thousand hatchlings that enter the sea live to adulthood. Each nest contains around one hundred to one hundred and twenty eggs, each of which are around the size and shape of a ping-pong ball. Female turtles begin to lay nests at around twenty to thirty years of age.

Now that I had seen a turtle (albeit from a boat) and knew what to look for I wanted to encounter one while I was swimming. Most of the turtle beaches are difficult to reach so I decided to just take the bus to Kalimaki Beach and swim down the peninsula from there. It's a nice area in which to swim because boats are prohibited and the peninsula is essentially undeveloped. I had gone a very long way and was about to turn around when I spotted a turtle! I was so thrilled! The turtle was sitting on the bottom with his eyes open but I couldn't tell if he had noticed me or not. Small feeder fish were eating barnacles and unwanted critters from the turtle. I floated around knowing that at some point the turtle would have to surface.

After about 15 minutes the turtle slowly floated and paddled his way to the surface for a quick breath. While there the turtle swam right over to me where I could have easily touched it! I was stunned since I expected the turtle to swim away from me, not toward me. My initial reaction was to stick my hand out, like with a cat or dog, so the turtle could sniff me and know I wasn't a threat. Fortunately my brain was working and I realized that might not be such a good idea. The turtle was so close to me for a long time as if trying to decide what I was. I couldn't believe that I was actually swimming with one of the rare animals but we stayed together for almost 30 minutes. That experience was easily one of the highlights of my trip!

The next day I went back to the same beach for another marathon swim and saw 2 more turtles! One was just floating on the bottom and seemed asleep but the other one swam right up to me again! They must be curious about what I could be since they seldom see swimmers. After checking me out the turtle paddled slowly on its way. I expected them to be fast swimmers but at up to 300 lbs. the turtles I saw were slowpokes.

Zakynthos suffered a series of four severe earthquakes in August 1953, resulting in the total destruction of the island's infrastructure. The third and most destructive of those quakes, registering 7.3 on the Richter Scale, occurred at 11:24 am local time on August 12, 1953. It had its epicenter directly on the southern tip of the nearby island of Kefalonia and caused widespread destruction there as well. In addition, the quake was felt throughout most of the country. Only three buildings on Zakynthos were left standing after the disaster: the St. Dionysios Cathedral, the National Bank building and the church of St. Nicholas. Much stricter building codes were then enacted so that all of the post-earthquake construction should withstand all but the most extreme earthquakes.

I had hoped to see more of Zakynthos during my visit but between expensive rental cars, limited bus routes and a posted bus schedule that didn't match the actual bus schedule I spent a lot of time going nowhere. Despite these issues I still enjoyed Laganas and Zakynthos, especially the experience swimming with the loggerhead turtles!

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Comments

Bob & David on

Great pictures and beautiful island! However, you need an underwater camera to capture the images of your curious loggerhead swim buddies.

Mike Ball on

Hey Bobby,

I'm way behind on my reading and picture viewing but I plan to catch up.

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