A Sea Turtle Hospital
“An undertaker, please!” comes an urgent voice from the necropsy room. Volunteers rush to help, to carry the lifeless sea turtle on its final journey. “Are we in a horror movie?” wonders one, as the group marches towards the area used as a cemetery. The path is dark, a single flashlight showing the way.
The necropsy results from the dead turtle begin to filter around the hospital. “It had swallowed a fishing line...” Everyone is angry – another of these precious creatures lost because of man’s carelessness. The discussion ends with another order from the camp leader: “Get ready. We are going to release the newborn sea turtles.”
This is the circle of life and death as it exists at Dekamer, the first – and only – sea turtle hospital in Turkey.
We are in the town of Dalyan, nestled on Turkey’s south-west coast. Here, a few kilometers from the center, lies İztuzu Beach – home to one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites of the Mediterranean. Loggerhead turtles – also known as caretta caretta – and green sea turtles – chelonia mydas – come to breed and lay their eggs here. Just a few hundred meters away is Dekamer, guarding not only this stretch of shoreline but Turkey’s entire Mediterranean coastal area hosting 21 nesting sites.
What distinguishes İztuzu Beach from the other sites is its protected status, prohibiting any construction or lighting on the shoreline. Since the baby sea turtles having hatched from their eggs follow the moonlight to reach to the sea, this status is vital for them, so that they don’t get lost and risk being caught by predators. On this 4.5 km beach, the path is dark for humans, to make it home to turtles.
Dekamer Center, which has cared for 300 sea turtles - whom only 80 arrived due to natural injures, since it was established in 2009, is founded on four principals - protection, treatment, research and education. A sea turtle’s principal behavior characteristic is that it always returns to nest on the beach where it was born. This means that protecting nesting sites, the eggs that are laid there and the newborn turtles is paramount. It’s the only way to ensure the numbers of these endangered creatures in Mediterranean waters will increase.
This means visitors are only welcome on İztuzu Beach during the day. It is one of the area’s most popular summer holiday destinations, its crystal waters and endless golden sands delighting tourists.
Then staff and volunteers at the center start their hospital duties – vaccinations and medical treatments, feeding. Necropsies must be performed on any dead sea turtles and the results carefully documented for the center’s records and future research. Some may have swallowed plastic, been hit by boats or injured by fishing hooks. Others - but rarely, may have died from natural causes.
This report is to highlight the fight against the alerting extinction of sea turtles and the challenges faced by those who are part of it.