Married to the turtle cause


A crowd turns out to cheer on a turtle returning to the sea after treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Michmoret (Photo: Yaniv Levy, Sea Turtle Rescue Center director)

By Desmond Bentley

The past century has seen a sharp worldwide decline in the numbers of sea turtles, ancient reptiles which have existed for more than 150 million years. Young sea turtles have a pitiful survival rate, with only one in every hundred hatchlings reaching sexual maturity.

"Sea turtles are globally endangered," Yaniv Levy confirms. Levy is manager of the Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Michmoret, half an hour north of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast. "All eight species of sea turtles in the world could soon become extinct," he warns.

"We have four aims: To treat injured turtles and return them to sea; to gather and incubate eggs and return the hatchlings to the beaches – we think there are only 10 green turtle females in Israel capable of childbirth, and want to double this figure; to raise public awareness of the issue; and to help preserve the coastline and establish coastal nature reserves."

Sea turtles are almost always submerged in water and can live for up to 80 years. They inhabit all of the world’s oceans except the Arctic.

Two species still survive in the Mediterranean – the Green Turtle and the Loggerhead. A handful of female adult Loggerhead Turtles still come ashore to nest on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, while about 20 Green Turtle nests are counted in the country each year. And thanks to the ongoing conservation efforts the Loggerhead population is on the rise, Levy notes. Still, "despite the impressive results of our efforts over the past two decades, we still have to fight to save every turtle," he laments, but his commitment is firm: "Turtles have been my life for 12 years – I feel married to the animals," he says.