For 10,000 years, green and loggerhead turtles have been nesting on the Mediterranean coast of Cyprus. In the last 100 years, they have been hunted to the brink of extinction. Thankfully, due to pioneering conservation efforts made by Cypriot marine biologists, these endearing reptiles have seen a promising bounce-back in numbers, pulling them away from the brink of extinction.

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For thousands of years, the turtles have hatched on Cyprus’s Lara Beach, fighting the waves as they make their way to the ocean and begin their lives. The reptiles return 20 to 30 years later to lay eggs and bring about the next generation of turtle hatchlings. This phenomenon is a result of the turtles’ own biological programming, which calls them back to the same beaches that their ancestors chose long ago.

Conservationists have been working tirelessly to save the endangered green and loggerhead turtle populations for four decades. Their efforts began in 1978, when only 300 turtle nests remained on Cyprus’s shores. The result is “quite spectacular,” according to Andreas Demetropoulos, founder and co-head of a turtle conservation program overseen by Cyprus’s Fisheries and Marine Research Department. His program reported approximately 1,100 nests last year alone, over three times as many as there were at the program’s beginning.

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The green and loggerhead turtles only nest in two countries, Turkey and Cyprus. Of the 1,500 egg-laying female green turtles, approximately 200-300 return to Cyprus to lay their eggs. More than twice as many loggerhead turtles do the same. To protect them, Cyprus’s government began its conservation program long before any other EU country, and in 1989 it passed legislation that protected two beaches that the turtles use as hatching grounds. Prior to this, residents would use the beach without regard for the turtles, but in the intervening years a conservationist culture has arisen. According to the program’s other co-head, Myroula Hadjichristophorou, “When people come [to the beaches] with their families, their children, they see the babies coming out of their nests, this is something that they will never forget.”

+ Sea Turtle Organization