22 Jul

Cleaning beaches and a soft spot for turtles

An estimated 100 million marine animals die each year due to plastic debris found in the ocean, and the Make Holidays Greener month this July is a call to action for the industry and holiday makers to save rubbish floating into the seas. 

Otherwise known to the travel industry as The Big Holiday Beach Clean, this year’s campaign led by ABTA, for the first time, is working in partnership with sustainable tourism certification Travelife and industry charity the Travel Foundation.

By the end of the season, an estimate of 3000Kg of rubbish will have been collected. According to hotels that have participated in beach cleans so far, the ingredients of rubbish filled beaches is a mix of cigarette butts and plastic such as straws and bottles.

In fact, around 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in our oceans which is entering the food chain and by 2025, it’s estimated there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish. 

One hotel reported that before their beach clean in Cyprus, the staff found a washed up 60Kg turtle entangled in fishing nets and plastic. The beach clean organiser confirmed: “After seeing some of the plastic brought out by the divers (similar to plastic wrapping around a pallet is the only way to describe it) we did wonder if it was the cause.”

The hotel’s feedback placed an emphasis on the purpose of the Make Holidays Greener beach cleaning campaign. It made the case for cleaning beaches even more important, for locals, guests and hotel staff to respect a destination’s environment and the value of conserving natural heritage.

The National Marine Park of Zakynthos in Greece, located in Laganas Bay was founded in 1999 and the first of its kind in Europe to legally protect loggerhead sea turtles and to manage the visitors to the area.

Throughout the 1980s to 90s, Zakynthos experienced a huge increase in tourism demand and became one of the most popular mass tourism destinations in Europe. However, it is the nesting ground for the loggerhead sea turtles in the Mediterranean and the uncontrolled tourism development endangered its turtle nesting beaches and turtle population.

The main objectives of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos include surveying and controlling human activities in the bay, a scientific research program to monitor loggerhead turtle migration routes, life cycle and educating people at visitor exhibition centres located around the island in Dafni, Gerakas, Vasilikos and Kalamaki.

A Traveilfe sustainably certified hotel, Castelli Hotel located in Laganas Bay, confirms a sighting of a turtle benefits their guest experiences and they are thrilled to get a photograph. The hotel has been assessed against specific Travelife sustainability criteria including animal welfare and has been recognised for its communications to guests about turtle conservation.

Another initiative in the Maldives, a destination severely affected by waste management issues is also a paradise surrounded by coral reefs.

Kuramathi Island resort, has organised a dive clean for the Make Holidays Greener campaign to remove rubbish from the coral. The Travelife certified hotel, employs a resident marine biologist, Vanessa Conard who confirmed: “The Eco Centre and diving school is involved in and supporting two sea turtle conservation projects in the Maldives. One is TurtleWatch Maldives, a programme by the Marine Research Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, for which we collect daily turtle sightings (number of turtles, species, sex, environmental conditions...) during diving and snorkelling surveys.

The second one is the Maldives Turtle ID Project by the Marine Savers, aiming to find out more about migration patterns of sea turtles within the Maldives. To support this project, we take and send in facial profile photographs whenever we have a closer encounter with a turtle. We also encourage our guests to participate in the programme by taking these identification photos (if conditions are safe and without stressing the animal of course).”

Turtle conservation initiatives such as in Zakynthos and in the Maldives are not only protecting the turtles but engaging visitors, staff and local people to observe and respect nature so the destination can operate sustainably.

The Make Holidays Greener campaign is promoting beach cleaning activities but it also aims to recognise and highlight valuable sustainable tourism initiatives.

So when you are on holiday, keep a look out floating plastic or forgotten rubbish and why not pick it up. You could be saving a turtle’s life! Turtles (as well as other sea life) may have a hard shell but they are prone to swallowing plastic. 

Image credit: Zakinthos National Park