December 15, 2023
For the 35th year in succession, MEDASSET participated in the 43rd Standing Committee Meeting of the Bern Convention (27 Nov. – 1 Dec. 2023) at the Council of Europe. We presented the results of our sea turtle nesting beach surveys and reported on the progress of implementation of the Convention’s Recommendations. As a result, the Bern Convention Standing Committee adopted important decisions to monitor several sea turtle habitats and urged Governments to improve protection. In this framework, the Convention presented the CONSERVATION OF SEA TURTLE NESTING SITES: A GUIDANCE TOOL that after years of consultations with NGOs and the governments, aims to provide guidance to the Contracting Parties in the Mediterranean.
Laganas Bay, Zakynthos (Caretta caretta)
With an average of 1.200 nests each season, Laganas bay hosts one of the most important breeding areas for the Caretta caretta in the Mediterranean. The sea turtles and their habitats onZakynthos island, though, remain under immense stress due to the intense touristic activity on the island, receiving more than 850.000 visitors each summer.
The case was first brought to the Bern Convention by MEDASSET in 1984, and as a result, the Standing Committee issued Recommendation No.9 in 1987, to ensure the site’s protection.
Over 35 years later, sea turtles and their habitats in Laganas Bay are still under immense stress. Despite the site’s designation as a National Marine Park under a Presidential Decree in 1999, the Greek government has failed to provide adequate protection and the “case file” was re-opened in 2020 by the Standing Committee.
In 2023, illegal activities continued, including human presence in restricted areas or at prohibited times, unregulated maritime activity and operation of illegal businesses affecting the nesting beaches. The route cause is the lack of enforcement by competent authorities and insufficient government funding for wardens.
In addition, the restoration of the illegally constructed road between Daphne and Gerakas within the National Marine Park of Zakynthos (NMPZ) and partially within the NATURA 2000 site has not been completed, while the fine of 200.000 euros issued in 2018 by the Regional Authority of Ionian Islands was reduced in May 2022 to 10.000 euros! In October 2022, MEDASSET and WWF Greece lodged a legal action in the Administrative Court against the decision amending the fine, requesting its annulment. The court hearing is still pending.
Moreover, the saturated illegal landfill that operated within the ZNMP boundaries and the Natura 2000 site has yet to be restored despite being out of operation since December 2017. On the 16th of November 2023, the European Commission decided to refer Greece again to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to restore the landfill on the island of Zakynthos within the Natura 2000 protected area. MEDASSET called upon the Greek government to urgently increase efforts for the adequate protection of Laganas Bay.
“The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns that Zakynthos National Marine Park Management Unit needed secure funding to ensure its warden capacity, and the ongoing cooperation between the local Management Unit and NGOs in responding to any reports of infringements by the latter.
The Committee took note that the Commission continues to monitor closely the efforts of the Greek authorities to comply with the Court ruling C-849/19 to establish the necessary conservation objectives and measures (Special Environmental Studies for the issuance of Presidential Decrees and Management Plans for all Natura 2000 sites) for the whole Natura 2000 network. The Committee also took note that the complainant requested to mandate an on-the-spot appraisal. However, the Committee expressed its concern at the information that illegal road constructions remained in place, and requested the authorities to inform about the follow-up given to the decision taken by the Supreme Court. The Committee also noted that illegal developments remained, beach wardens’ presence on the nesting beaches was insufficient, the number of visitors exceeded the legal maximum allowances, marine traffic remained extremely high, and that speed limits were not respected by boats. It requested the authorities to work on these, in particular to ensure full implementation of measures by local stakeholders. In this context, the Committee invited the national authorities to use the opportunity of the proposed Specific Environmental Study (SES) for the protected areas of the Ionian Islands, including Zakynthos, accompanied by a draft of a new PD and a MP, to increase the protection of Caretta caretta in the area, and referred to its newly adopted guidance tool on the Conservation of sea turtles nesting sites and encouraged both parties to make full use of it in their work.
Finally, the Standing Committee thanked both parties for their cooperation on the ongoing marine turtles’ conservation initiative.
The file remains open and both parties were invited to report to the Bureau in Autumn 2024.”
Southern Kyparissia Bay (Caretta caretta)
Kyparissia Bay hosts one of the largest reproductive loggerhead turtle population across the Mediterranean. Although the nesting beaches belong to an EU NATURA 2000 site, the Greek government has failed to introduce and enforce the necessary conservation and management measures, seven years after the Bern Convention Recommendation No.174 (Dec. 2014) and seven years after the condemning Judgment of the European Court of Justice (Nov. 2016).
Enforcement of the Presidential Decree adopted in October 2018, affording legal protection to the site, is non-existent and we strongly reiterated the urgent need for the implementation of a Management Plan, as the Decree does not address several major issues. At the 2023 Bern Convention Standing Committee meeting, MEDASSET in collaboration with ARCHELON presented the continued degradation of the site and its inadequate management during the summer of 2023.
Threats recorded included ongoing construction of illegal buildings along the coastline, continued planting and farming of alien species on the nesting beaches and dunes, nearshore fishing, vehicular access to the nesting beaches, lack of beach furniture management and light pollution.
The Committee took note of the intervention of the European Commission who informed that in November 2023, in the framework of Case C-504/14 on the failure of Greece to take the required measures to avoid the disturbance of protected sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and deterioration of protected habitats in the area of Kyparissias, the Commission had addressed questions to national authorities (i.e. regarding authorizing or tolerating building projects, authorizing the development of access routes to beaches in the Kyparissia area, toleration of illegal free camping, absence of beach wardens). The Commission had also urged the Hellenic authorities to finalise and adopt the management plan for the area. The Commission continues to monitor closely the efforts of the Greek authorities to comply with the Court ruling C-849/19 to establish the necessary conservation objectives and measures (Special Environmental Studies for the issuance of Presidential Decrees and Management Plans for all Natura 2000 sites) for the whole Natura 2000 network. Finally, if the country does not take the necessary measures to comply with all the aspects of the Court ruling the Commission may further pursue the case and ultimately refer it back to the Court of Justice and request that fines be imposed.
Welcomed the recently issued (February 2023) national conservation targets for Caretta caretta (Government Gazette No. 1091/B/28.2.2023)
Recalled that despite national authorities’ initiatives (such as road blocking) and their commitment to monitor the area and continue with the implementation of the measure (environmental restoration study), the enforcement of relevant national laws was still low. In this context, it urged the national authorities to finalise their report on human activities on the beaches, and strictly enforce and implement the Presidential Decree’s provisions. Competent authorities must ensure that the existing threats of the protected area such as light pollution, beach bars and beach furniture, extensive vehicular traffic, free camping, annual local Music Festivals, uncontrolled agricultural and fishing activities, the existing illegal constructions, and the constructions of buildings, are dealt with permanently. It welcomed the commitment expressed by the Ministry to monitor the area and continue the implementation of the environmental restoration study of the sand dunes. The Committee nevertheless urged the national authorities to fully implement Recommendation No. 174 (2014).
Acknowledged the complainant’s ongoing concerns that a Management Plan for Thines Kiparissias had still not been adopted after a delay of 5 years and took note of the national authorities’ statement that it is expected to be issued by the end of 2023. It urged the national authorities to step up their efforts to adopt a Management Plan within this timeframe, which should address the threats referred to above.
Also requested that the national authorities ensure that the Management Unit of the Natural Environment and Climate Change Agency (NECCA/OFYPEKA) that is responsible for the site elaborates on ways to ensure the supervision and management of the protected area and the collaboration with local authorities and stakeholders, as soon as possible.
Referred to its newly adopted guidance tool on the Conservation of sea turtles nesting sites and encouraged both parties to make full use of it in their work.
Noted that the file remains “‘open”
Fethiye & Patara (Caretta caretta) 
MEDASSET has been conducting assessments and campaigning to improve the protection of loggerhead nesting beaches in Patara and Fethiye since 1988. Both sites are “Specially Protected Areas” (SPAs). Our 2023 assessments once again prove that, the majority of the Recommendations adopted by the Bern Convention in 2015 (No. 182 for Patara and No. 183 for Fethiye) have not been implemented.
In Fethiye, serious problems remain, imposing serious threats to sea turtles and necessitating immediate actions.
Destructive development continues in complete disregard of the Bern Convention’s Recommendation. New hotels, beach bars and other facilities ruin the last remaining pristine areas of the SPA. The site lacks appropriate management plans, zoning and personnel. There is insufficient beach furniture management and vehicle access control. Anthropogenic threats such as light pollution and human presence at night continue unabated.
Fethiye is an example of the authorities’ failure to implement the measures of Recommendation No. 183 and effectively protect this important sea turtle nesting beach and habitat.
In Patara, the main unresolved conservation problems that are negatively affecting the nesting beaches remain, despite certain improvements observed in 2023. Authorities have yet to confirm Patara SPA’s zoning, publicize the maps and ensure that the entire nesting beach (North and South sections), the nearshore areas and the entire sand dune areas are appropriately zoned and protected against any further development.
Based on what we observed during our summer 2023 assessment, Recommendation No. 182 (2015) has not been fully implemented and Turkish laws are not enforced. There is Poor management of vehicle access to the nesting beach. There is inadequate staff and the nesting beaches do not receive the appropriate protection and management. It is high time for authorities to take action with no further delay.
The Committee acknowledged some limited progress by the authorities in the management and enforcement of regulations but noted that additional efforts were needed to adequately protect the area. It urged the Turkish authorities to complete the Management Plan for Fethiye rapidly and to step up their efforts to adopt the Management Plan for Patara as soon as possible. It also requested from the Turkish authorities to provide the necessary resources for the effective protection of the nesting beaches.
Requested that the next Government report include a comprehensive and updated action plan for implementation and enforcement of Recommendations No. 182 (2015) and No. 183 (2015), including a detailed timeframe for the implementation of all points of the Recommendations as well as an indication of how to measure the success of the actions identified. It encouraged the national authorities and the local authorities to reinforce their cooperation for a better implementation of the Recommendations.
Noted that the file remains open and both parties were invited to report to the Bureau in Autumn 2024.
 Sporadic green turtle (C.mydas) nesting has been recorded.
Anamur (Caretta caretta) 
Find out more in the NGO report .
Anamur’s 12,5 km beach is the 2nd most important nesting beach in Turkey and the 4th most important in the Mediterranean for the loggerhead turtles. The SPA is a nesting site for several other sea turtle species as well, including the Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and the critically endangered Nile soft-shelled turtles (Trionyx triunguis).
Under Turkish legislation, the 12km nesting beach of Anamur is declared as a 1st Degree Conservation Area with coordinates defining the protection zone, and the most stringent protection being applied to the 1st Protection zone, which is from the shoreline up to 65m. Within this area, alteration of the land is prohibited, sand must not be removed or added, the use of lights at night is prohibited AND any plan or project must receive Ministerial permission.
However due to the destructive development, a case file was opened during the 42nd Standing Committee Meeting (Dec. 2022). During the July 2023 survey, performed under the auspices of the local NGO MERCED, it was documented that there has been no progress and the destructive development continues.
As noted at the September Bureau meeting, was extremely concerned with the situation in Mersin Anamur Beach and strongly condemned the destruction of the beach area. It urged the Turkish authorities to halt phase II of the coastal development project and to ensure that no other coastal development projects extend to other areas of the beach. It also urged the Turkish authorities to act as requested by the Bureau in its September decision.
Requested information from the authorities on the mitigation measures put in place and what post construction monitoring was foreseen, and to find preserved places in the vicinity where marine turtles can settle and nest in a safe environment.
More particularly, and in line with the complainants’ concerns, requested the Turkish authorities to:
- Complete the rehabilitation and remove soil, trees, and concrete infrastructure put on the nesting beach for the “Beach Arrangement Project” Phases I and II;
- Proceed with the full restoration of the Karaağaç section, to its natural state;
- Prevent further unsustainable stone wall construction along the Dragon River that impacts on the nesting activity and habitat of the Trionyx triunguis turtles;
- Provide location information of the “Beach Arrangement Project” including the coordinates of the area, length of the beach occupied, and distance from the shoreline;
- Dismiss the zoning plan change in the Aquapark region affecting the nesting beach that is approved by the Municipality of Anamur and the Mersin Metropolitan Municipality;
- Suspend the geothermal drilling license, which covers the nesting beach, until an EIA process by an independent scientific team evaluates its impact;
- Return the densest nesting area between Dragon Rivulet, Mamure Castle, and the Pullu Forest Camp to its previous protection status which a new Circular in July 2023 reduced;
- Allocate more staff or cooperate with a university to ensure efficient monitoring and caging;
- Collaborate and communicate with the local NGOs on any issues related to this file.
- Also acknowledged the complainant’s ongoing concerns that violations of the national legislation to protect the sea turtles and nesting habitat continue to occur without any consequence for the perpetrators: sand extraction from the beach, vehicles accessing the beach, light and sound pollution, and business expansions. It urged the national authorities to ensure that local authorities and local businesses comply with Turkish National law and the Bern Convention’s Recommendation No. 66 (1998).
- Referred to its newly adopted guidance tool on the Conservation of sea turtles nesting sites and encouraged both parties to make full use of it in their work.
- Decided to mandate an on-the-spot appraisal, subject to the agreement of the Turkish authorities, and urged the Turkish authorities to halt any construction until then. Noted that the file remains open and both parties were invited to report to the Bureau in Spring 2024. Both parties were invited to report to the Bureau in Autumn 2023”
Kazanli (Chelonia Mydas)
Green turtles Chelonia mydas are globally endangered and in the Mediterranean researchers estimate that only 784 green adult female turtles nest in the region, laying about 1.164-2.674 nests per year. The beach of Kazanli in southern Turkey is one of the most important green turtle nesting areas in the Mediterranean. Part of Kazanli nesting beach is nationally designated as a 1st Degree Natural Protected Area.
MEDASSET has been monitoring Kazanli nesting beach and reporting on its conservation problems since 1999. A case file was opened in 2000, followed by Recommendation No. 95 (2002) “on the conservation of marine turtles in Kazanlı beach (Turkey)”. Main threats identified are erosion, wastewater and toxic waste pollution, litter, sand extraction, light pollution, greenhouses on the rim of the nesting beach, coastal fishing during the nesting season, disturbance to the species during nesting and lack of public awareness. Unfortunately, once again we have to report that our summer 2023 assessment revealed that there is no progress on the implementation of Recommendation No. 95 and the nesting beach and habitat are in dire need of protection.
The Committee took note of the reports of both parties, thanked MEDASSET, the complainant organisation, for its oral presentation, and regretted the Turkish authorities’ absence.
Noted only limited progress in the implementation of Recommendation No. 95 (2002) and remained very preoccupied by the situation of sea turtles at Kazanlı beach.
More generally, requested full implementation of Recommendation No. 95 (2002) with no further delay, especially to implement the erosion control and the toxic waste removal. Referred to its newly adopted guidance tool on the Conservation of sea turtles nesting sites and encouraged both parties to make full use of it in their work.
Invited both parties to report to the Bureau in Autumn 2025 ahead of the following Standing Committee.
Akamas peninsula (Caretta caretta & Chelonia mydas)
For more details see Terra Cypria’s 2023 report
Conservation problems at nesting sites in Akamas and Limni were brought to the attention of the Bern Convention in 1996 by MEDASSET on behalf of NGO Terra Cypria and a case file has remained open since 1997, making it one of the longest-standing cases of the Bern Convention. Terra Cypria provided evidence that implementation of the Convention’s 2016 Recommendation is still outstanding, no legally binding management plans are yet in place and effective enforcement is needed. MEDASSET supported Terra Cypria’s calls for urgent action by authorities to ensure enforcement of management measures on all nesting beaches.
The Standing Committee took note of the reports of both parties and thanked the Cypriot authorities and the complainant organization, Terra Cypria for their oral presentations.
Noted progress in certain areas, such as the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that had been signed between the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research (DFMR) and the complainant last year and that it had been trialed at the beginning of the summer. It also noted that the complainant is to be actively involved in the protection of marine turtles in Cyprus.
Took note of the intervention of the European Commission which informed that, in 2023, it had continued the dialogue with the Cypriot authorities in the framework of the infringement procedure for failing to fulfil the obligations under Articles 4(4) and 6 of the Habitats Directive, in particular for failing to designate sites of community importance (SCIs) (for which the six-year deadline has expired) as special areas of conservation (SACs) and to establish the necessary conservation objectives and measures for these sites. The Commission also continued the dialogue with the Cypriot authorities in the framework of the infringement procedure regarding the systemic problem of bad application of Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive.
Expressed serious concern that after so many years the majority of the thirteen points of Recommendation No. 191 (2016) were still not fully followed-up by the authorities and that according to interested actors the main threats remain. The Standing Committee urged the Cypriot authorities to step up efforts to implement all points of the Recommendation and asked the government to send the ongoing review of the legality of the road construction in Akamas National Forest Park as soon as it is finalised.
Referred to its newly adopted guidance tool on the Conservation of sea turtles nesting sites and encouraged both parties to make full use of it in their work.
Noted that the file remains “Open” and both parties were invited to report to the Bureau in Autumn 2024.