It felt quiet, calm, more like a church than a beach. As we walked along the sand we spotted the wide tracks that looked like a child had pulled a toboggan from the sea up towards the dry mud cliffs.
Up the track was a small pile of sand, like a sandcastle waiting for a child to pat the edges flat.
The clues were all there.
A female loggerhead turtle had hauled herself up the beach just hours before us, digging a deep nest for her ping pong shaped eggs.
We all laid down flat on the tracks of sand, listening, as if we could still hear her heartbeat.
Even the turtle’s tracks enthralled our imagination. We took big gasps of the salty sea air, filling our souls.
A British man, Nigel, in a wide brimmed hat with a friendly dog came walking towards us. He collected long sticks and with great care placed them in a circle around the nest to warn sunbathers that this was a sacred spot, not to be damaged with the pole of an umbrella.
As his dog bounced around the beach he told us that he lives in London but comes to Koroni several times a year to run retreats.
Koroni Beach, Southwest Kefalonia. Greece
He explained the mud cliffs have special healing minerals. He uses the mud in massages for his clients.
We made the mud into a paste, plastered it on our skin and let the sun dry it until it cracked. Then we ran into the sea to wash it off.
It was more exciting than any spa and our skin was really soft.
It was a full moon, perfect for turtles to lay their eggs. But our youngest children were tired and hungry so reluctantly we headed up the mountain to a hillside bar, Sesto, for some food.
The children laid on huge floor cushions and we sat at tables with palm frond sun roofs looking out at the spectacular bay. We ate delicious Greek salad, tatziki, chips cooked with oregano, and stared out at the beautiful sea imagining the turtles out at sea waiting to lay their eggs.
The tracks had left us desperate to see the turtles. The next morning Stuart and Summer, our 4-year-old went down to the beach just after light hoping to see a turtle. It was quiet and there were no signs of any more nests.
They drove to Mounda beach about 20 minutes away. Mounda was a place where there used to be many turtle nests. Perhaps it was too early in the season, but there were no nests evident at all. Maybe the deckchairs and tourists had put the turtles off.
In the local shop where they stopped to buy fresh figs and apricots, the owner’s mother told them we must go to Argostoli Harbour to see Caretta Caretta – the turtles.
The fishermen feed them scraps from their catch so we would almost definitely see them.
Stuart picked us up and we headed straight there. As we drove up the main road in Argostoli we spotted a crowd of people gathered by the harbour. Many of them had sky blue T-shirts with WildSense printed on the front and researcher on the back.
We parked and ran as fast as we could in the heat towards the people. The researchers had caught a loggerhead turtle and were carefully shading her in a wooden crate so they could tag her and do health checks for their studies.
All we could really see was her reddish brown slightly heart shaped shell.
The lead researcher, Chanel, kindly explained to her excited volunteers what they needed to do and each one carefully helped with their precious catch.
Then they gently lifted the giant turtle out of the crate and lowered her into the water. In a second she disappeared.
Chanel told us there are around 50 resident turtles living in the lagoon. They are the world’s only resident loggerhead turtles. She said that if we rented a pedallo we may see them swimming around.
At the lagoon we jumped into the motorised pedallos and set straight off.
About ten minutes later we were lucky.
’Stop,’ cried Emil, ‘I can see a turtle.’
Just below the surface of the water we saw the shell as it glided by so fast. Then we saw his head pop up from the water like a periscope close to the boat.
We were all desperate to jump in the water and swim with him, but loggerhead turtles are a protected species and we were not allowed to.
It was 6pm when we got out of the boats. Paneri Panagiotia, whose family started the business four years, was so enthusiastic about the turtles. She was delighted that we were so excited to see them. As we stood chatting she spotted one gliding towards the harbour wall. She jumped in a boat to drive Stuart closer to him so he could take pictures.
The huge turtle glided right up to the harbour wall. He was one of
the largest resident males. He weaved his huge body effortlessly in and out the seaweed foraging for crabs.
Summer tried to launch herself towards him, she had only just learnt to swim, but she didn’t care. ‘I’m going in to see him,’ she said.
I really wished we both could jump in, but I held her hand tightly.
Then a second turtle glided straight towards the large male. They banged their flippers on the water, spinning their heads around
as they lunged wide opened mouths at each other trying to bite. They were fighting over a female, explained Paneri.
Watching these turtles, it really felt like we were watching one of life’s miracles. Only 1 in 1,000 baby turtles survive until adulthood. These turtles made it through the perils at sea, the predators like crabs and gulls hoping for a tasty meal, they have avoided the fishing nets and human light pollution, deckchairs and umbrellas.
We went home feeling deeply happy to have seen these ancient, beautiful turtles.
Wildlife Sense is a sea turtle research & conservation organization based on the beautiful island of Kefalonia, Greece