Turtle island in Zante sits right at the heart of the most important loggerhead turtle breeding ground in the Mediterranean. A mecca for both loggerhead turtles and wildlife spotters in nesting season, the protected waters here get pretty boat-logged once a turtle is spotted. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing for the turtles – or the people paying to spot them. Happily, there are plenty of ways to see Zante’s turtles in a green and low impact way. We’ve got the where, when, and how all sorted …
When to go
The Caretta-Caretta (loggerhead turtle) breeding season begins in April and continues through until August. Eggs are laid on the beaches that form part of the breeding grounds during these months and eggs hatch around 60 days later. Which could see you booking up a stay and hoping to catch a glimpse of turtles hauling on to the beaches and tiny hatchlings emerging. Do keep in mind though that all of the nesting action happens at night. And, the beaches are closed – and guarded to protect the turtles. But… with a few early mornings – and a fair bit of snorkelling it is still possible to see turtles in Zante. Just not guaranteed. The loggerhead turtles – and the hatchlings can be seen right up until the end of October, depending on a few factors, including the weather.
Where to see Zante’s turtles
This small island in Laganas Bay is the place to find Zante’s turtles. A favoured nesting site in the breeding grounds of the local loggerhead turtle population, the undeveloped beach is a gorgeous spot to do a little wildlife watching on. Right in the heart of the Marine Park, getting to these protected waters is easy – but there are a few dos and don’ts to navigate. Speed limits and a strict no anchoring policy means it’s easier to hop on an eco-minded tour. We’ve made a few suggestions below.
One of Zante’s best beaches for snorkelling, Kalamaki Beach also happens to be a prime turtle spotting location. Perched on the coast, just south of the airport, this might seem an unlikely spot for a serene swim. But, the adult loggerhead turtles spending their time here swimming over the sea grass meadows don’t seem to mind. The seagrass strands are a stunning sight on their own – gently undulating in the clear waters, but the small fish and turtles that swing by make it a sight to remember. There’s a reason the meadows are known as the rainforests of the Med. Expect to see a lot of marine life, not just turtles.
Orbzii tip: As you’re in protected waters, there’s no need to worry about watersports here – but a snorkelling buoy is still recommended. Boats can pass through – but the speed is restricted.
This stretch of sand has tell-tale signs of turtle action – right on the beach. In nesting season, you’ll spot many wooden frames protecting sections of shore. These are turtle nests, full of unhatched eggs left by adult loggerhead turtles earlier in the year. A stroll along the beach, when it first opens at 7am, could mean a chance encounter with a baby turtle. There’s a definite no-touch policy, but watching from a reasonable distance will be a memory to treasure. Volunteers can often be seen here, counting hatchlings, protecting nests and gathering data. If you want to sunbathe here, stay clear of the wooden frames – and only use the umbrellas provided. Putting your own stakes, brollies or similar in the sand could damage an unrecorded nest.
Zante’s turtle tours
A spot on Mario Cruise’s small boat gets you to Turtle Beach before most people have taken a seat at their breakfast buffet. And, exploring Turtle Island before the peak rush hour certainly has its advantages. You’ll have the island to yourselves to begin with, and on the way back, if you do spot a turtle in the water – there shouldn’t be the same crowding problems that appear later in the day. Add in the glass-bottomed hull of Mario’s specially commissioned cruiser and you could get a very top-down view of a loggerhead turtle. This full day tour includes swim stops and explores the caves along the shore. Mario does also dive into the water to bring sea creatures (not turtle) to the boat for passengers to see and touch, taking a point or two off the low impact score for this otherwise mindful turtle tour.
Kayak to Turtle Island
One way to minimise stress on Zante’s turtles is to skip the boat tours entirely and deploy some paddle power. Hire a couple of sea kayaks and explore the shoreline by yourselves or hop on the Turtle Island tour from Sea Kayaking Zakynthos. Over the course of 3.5 hours, you’ll paddle and snorkel around 4 nautical miles of Zante’s waters. As well as scooting over to Turtle Island (Zante’s prime turtle spotting location) you’ll paddle into the Keri Caves and snorkel in the warm, clear waters. There’s no guarantee you’ll see a turtle – but this trip is an eco-friendly, low impact way to access the loggerhead turtles’ habitat.
Orbzii tip: Boats are required to stay around 10m away from the turtles at all times. So, if you do see a turtle – resist the urge to paddle straight at it. You’re likely to spook it or distress it. If you can hold still, chances are the turtle may well swim by for a closer look.
Although Zante’s turtle figures are impressive, you won’t necessarily see a turtle every time you hop in the ocean. So it pays to combine your turtle watching exploits with the chance to see more of the island’s impressive marine life. The team at Diver’s Paradise can take you to a selection of Zante dive sites, with options to suit all abilities. To amp up your chances of seeing loggerhead turtles, join them on their Marathonissi dive. Suitable for all levels of diving experience, this easy dive is known as the ‘Aquarium’ for a reason. Huge fish numbers, shallow calm waters and you’re diving right by Turtle Island. Another low impact way to swim with Zante’s turtles – and avoid the boat jam in the waters above.
To learn more about Zante’s turtles…
Mediterranean Marine Life Center
Many, many visitors head for this small museum and rescue centre hoping to see a turtle resting up before being re-released. But, the centre has struggled over the years to raise the funds needed to fully launch a meaningful rescue operation. That said, this small but determined effort is all down to local resident, Yiannis Vardakastanis. For 20 years he’s seen the turtles struggle with the rise of tourism and Yiannis hopes his free information centre close to Gerakas Beach will go some way to help educate visitors to the turtle’s plight. The buildings here have useful information on the loggerhead turtle population, how to protect the island’s turtles and details of the other wildlife and plants you can find on Zante. Though, the small collection of terrapins and tortoises might be disappointing for anyone hoping to see turtles.