Local Knowledge: Kaptan June, Marine Environmentalist

Sea turtles were the last thing on Briton June Haimoff’s mind when she sailed into Dalyan on her boat Bouboulina in 1975. But after 'Kaptan June', as the locals affectionately dubbed her, set up house in a baraka (hut) on İztuzu Beach, got to observe the caretta caretta (loggerhead turtles) at ground level, and fended off, with the help of a number of Turkish and foreign environmentalists, plans to develop the beach into a 1800-bed Marmaris-style hotel resort, they became her life’s work. June set up the Kaptan June Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation (www.dalyanturtles.com) and was awarded an MBE in 2011 at age 89.

What is the greatest threat to the sea turtles?

Humans. The proliferation of dams and roads has devastated lots of the Mediterranean coast. The turtles’ habitats are being destroyed for the sake of tourist development. As for injuries to the turtles, more than 90% are human-inflicted and come from fishing hooks and nets and, most commonly, boat propellers.

What steps has the foundation taken to reduce these?

Our first project was to give away locally manufactured propeller guards to excursion boats on the Dalyan River. We are now looking into sourcing and distributing biodegradable fishing line that won’t harm the turtles if they happen to ingest it. It has not been easy to persuade local boat operators to fit propeller guards, but interest is growing. We maintain our promise to supply and fit these guards to boats without charge to the boat owners.

How can visitors to İztuzu Beach reduce their impact?

The urge to see a turtle in nature is not easily satisfied; they only come out at night during mating season and the beach is closed then. Some boat companies offer 'turtle-spotting' tours by day and attract the turtles by feeding them their favourite crab or chicken, which is not suitable for them. I recommend travellers join tours run by boats with propeller guards; these can be identified by a flag bearing the foundation’s logo. The boat cooperative, especially the younger captains, is becoming more supportive. Once visitors use the services of these captains exclusively, others will follow suit. We hope that one day local legislation will be introduced to stop the unsuitable feeding of turtles and support the fitting of propeller guards, but in the meantime we continue to work towards these aims.