Wild Wonders of Europe



The Nile soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx triunguis) lives in the brackish waters of the Dalyan Delta, where it grows up to a body length of slightly more than 1 m. (Solvin Zankl)The Turkish midsummer heat hits stunningly but unsurprisingly. However, the size of this object in focus is both, stunning and surprising: A freshwater turtle with a carapace length of 1 metre is what I would expected to see in the Amazon River, but surely not here in Europe. And in fact the home of this giant Nile Soft-Shelled Turtle (Trionyx triunguis), the famous Dalyan Delta, with its meandering river and countless branchings is reminiscent of a tiny detail of Amazonia.

Towards the Mediterranean Sea the beach of Dalyan stretches its sandy flat 4 kilometres in length and more than 200 metre wide.  (Solvin Zankl)A huge rectangular zone of the beach is neatly riddled with sun loungers and umbrellas, which make it obvious that this is a tourist area. But all furnitures are set up in a distance of 30 metre from the water and only the expert eye instantly recognises the reason: The stretch of sand between the line of umbrellas and the water hosts hundreds of seaturtle nests, only testified to by some tracks which the nesting Loggerhead Turtles left on the beach. The Lycian Coast in Turkey is famous for beaches like this. Nevertheless, for my mission to take pictures for Wild Wonders of Europe I chose an other stretch of shore which is not so much in the focus of human sun worshippers.

This is where I now wait at night for that special moment when a marine reptile takes the trouble to carry its own heavy body on land. There is magic in the air when the twinkling moonlight on the surf is interrupted by the dark round shadow of a 70 kilogram female  (Solvin Zankl)Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) which drags herself ashore. It reminds of the first conquest of the land by some ancient animal. Literally moved by this sight I give some more place to the turtle and only a few metres from me the female crawls through the sand, pausing every once in a while to take an audible, deep breath. I can allow myself to sit in awe and watch, because if I would move too much and take pictures now when the turtle is still preparing, it would just break off and return to the sea immediately. It is just when the scraping sounds of digging the nesthole ceased that I silently crawl near to the rear of the turtle to check if it started dropping the eggs. Now I can sit up and start photographing – now the female will not stop before the approximately 100 eggs are laid and thoroughly covered with sand. But I must work fast. I have only about 20 minutes before the turtle will be through and gone between the waves.

When I watch the dark carapace vanishing in the surf I know the female will only return in 2 or 3 years, as now, in August, the nesting season ends. But I have something else to look forward to: To see hatching young seaturtles. Many nests that have been laid before are ready after the warm sand incubated and sheltered them for about 2 month. As if they would follow a command all healthy hatchlings of a nest begin at the same time to struggle to towards the surface, where they are keen to reach the close sea.

The  (Solvin Zankl)first faint glimmer of the sunrise already shows at the horizon when I found the little tracks on the sand. The hatchlings nearly made it to the ocean and now I can fulfill myself a long-cherished wish: I accompany and photograph a newly hatched seaturtle under water while it is doing its first dives. One hour later – being impressed by the speed and determination of this 6 centimetre-reptile – I have to admit that it finds its way in the big blue much better than I do. I feel grateful that I could share this start into a new life and my best wishes go out there with this small animal that I got to know a little bit.

Comments are closed.