Fighting Single-Use Plastic to Protect Loggerhead Turtles, Italy

Istituto Oikos is a non profit organisation that operates in Europe and in the South of the world to safeguard biodiversity and to promote the widespread adoption of more sustainable lifestyles. Istituto Oikos will work in collaboration on this project with local volunteering organisation Caretta Calabria Conservation.

The Mediterranean Sea hosts one of the 10 sub populations of the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ under the IUCN Red List Criteria. The wild ionic coast of the Calabria region, is the main Caretta caretta sea turtle nesting spot in Italy, hosting 60% of the nests recorded in the country.

However, this coast also faces a plastic pollution emergency. Italy has record numbers when it comes to plastic (i.e. it’s the highest consumer of plastic water bottles in Europe: 32 million per day) and in Calabria, where less than 1/3 of the waste is appropriately managed, the over consumption of plastic easily turns into littering. Every year 130,000 sea turtles die due to plastic and waste ingestion in the Mediterranean. Plastic pollution also changes the characteristics of nesting beaches, affecting egg development and hatching.

Istituto Oikos will work closely with the local conservation charity Caretta Calabria Conservation who have been dedicated to Caretta caretta conservation since 2005.

This project will address the plastic littering emergecy and protect sea turtles by:
1. Working to maximise the reproductive success of Caretta caretta by identifying and protecting their nests, and carrying out beach clean ups;
2. A comprehensive programme to educate and raise awareness on the importance of reducing plastic waste and littering, reaching local citizens, schools and fishermen.

The Update

2020 was an extraordinary season for sea turtles in Calabria; a total of 66 nests and 3335 hatchlings safely reaching the sea. A small, dedicated team of volunteers covered 3,000km of coast over 100 days between May and August.

The project adapted much of its planned work as a result of the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Initial plans of public events, educational visits, clean-up activities, etc. could no longer be carried out, consequently the project produced a series of innovative and highly successful digital materials. Including:

– Awareness raising through an inspirational video: The Coast of Turtles created by Massimo Castelli, Istituto Oikos and Caretta Calabria Conservation.

– Digital educational kits for schools ‘The sea in your class’

– A docufilm to increase public awareness and engagement was also produced and primarily targets young people: 2050: Marine Chronicles

Fishermen in the area were supplied with line cutters to free turtles unintentionally caught in their nets. In future years it is hoped that training will be provided to explain how to hoist accidentally caught turtles on board and treat them until appropriate authorities can help.

Istituto Oikos will continue to work with Caretta Calabria Conservation on turtle conservation in future years and will also strive to promote a reduction in plastic consumption as a long-term strategy in Italy.

This project was enabled by the generous funding of The North Face.

Image: Caretta caretta, Loggerhead turtle