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Tour Director Kevin Hand is an ecologist and conservationist who has led nature tours with ACE for over 30 years. At the ACE Cultural Tours office we often receive visits from our Tour Directors, and Kevin always brings a warm and cheerful presence with him.


SQUARE_KevinHandBlogProfile Hatching Season in Crete with Kevin Hand


Alongside leading wildlife and nature tours, Kevin also works closely with The Association for Cultural Exchange, the charity that wholly owns ACE Cultural Tours. One aspect of the work the charity supports is environmental studies, both at Stapleford Granary, home of ACE Cultural Tours and the charity, as well as further afield.


Kevin is currently acting as a conservation advisor for the preservation of Stapleford Granary’s rare chalk stream ecosystem. On a recent visit to the ACE office Kevin shared a story from his tour to Crete several years ago. On the tour Kevin and the ACE travellers had visited the Hellenic Sea Turtle Preservation Society who were conducting work to protect the sites where native sea turtles lay their eggs in the autumn season. We wanted to share this delightful story which we have transcribed below.


Sea Turtles in Crete


I had a story I was going to share with you as well, if I may, which illustrates, I think, that lovely element of being on tour with ACE: that you're not with a profit-making organisation. This is an organisation in which all the funds are used for educational work and over the years I've managed to direct funds to various interesting projects in some of the countries I've been lucky enough to visit.


In Crete, we worked with the Hellenic Sea Turtle Preservation Society for a year or two, so we went to visit the work the society was doing. This was in the autumn, but the turtles are around in the spring too, to some extent. We went during the morning to see the evidence of the turtles emerging from their nests overnight. We wouldn't expect to see any turtles, but we talked to the volunteers, and you could see these piles of sand where the eggs had hatched. You could see some eggshells; it was all lovely.



Adult loggerhead turtle tracks on a beach; the female turtles have to leave the water to lay their eggs on land



Turtle nest protection methods set up by the Hellenic Sea Turtle Preservation Society


We had one chap in the group who smoked, it's quite unusual in an ACE group to have any smokers, but this was a while ago now. He went off quietly during the tour, but he came running back and said, "I think I've found one of the baby turtles!"


So we went over to join him with the volunteers, and indeed he had.


These are animals that should have hatched in the middle of the night and made their way in darkness to the sea, safe from any predatory gulls or other things. But this one had hatched late and was out in the bright sun. You'd think we could just pick it up and take it to the sea, but you can't. They have to imprint the memory of the sand and the beach they're born on. It has to get stuck in their minds if they're female, as they will come back to that same beach to breed themselves. They have to get the strength in their little flippers themselves through strenuously working along the beach to get to the sea, otherwise the muscles don't develop properly. For almost an hour, we had to watch this little animal struggle towards the sea.



Rescued hatchlings to scale with a human hand


The only thing we could do was hold an umbrella over it to keep the sun off of it and, of course, keep the predators away. That wasn't a problem. We could try and direct it with pieces of wood, but it didn't really take much notice of that. It didn't have the moonlit sea to guide it. But after what seemed like an hour, it made it to the edge of the waves, and I think we all held our breath, and it disappeared under the waves. But then nothing happened, “Oh, my goodness, it's drowned!” we thought, “It hasn't been able to swim!” And just then all of a sudden, a little head popped up, and we all cheered! We couldn't believe it.


So we christened the turtle Little Roy, after the name of the man who found it on his smoke break.


Caretta Caretta, the Loggerhead Turtle


Six marine turtles are found in the Mediterranean Sea. The loggerhead turtle and green turtle are the most common and are the only two species that breed in the Mediterranean. The largest turtle species in the world, the leatherback turtle, is observed in the open sea throughout the Mediterranean.


Loggerhead turtles are the species of turtle that nest across Greece, including Crete. May to July is the nesting season, when female turtles will return to the beaches where they were born. The mothers bury the eggs and then leave them from August to October when they hatch. The baby turtles must make their own way to sea and conservation organisations spend this time protecting nesting sites, habitats and beaches from intrusion or destruction. The sea turtles, their nests, their eggs and the hatchlings are protected by Greek law and international conventions.


An adult loggerhead turtle

An adult loggerhead sea turtle


Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) are registered as vulnerable (2017). Their average weight falls between 80kg and 200kg and can grow to a maximum size of 213cm.


Caretta Caretta, the Loggerhead Turtle


On conclusion of such a joyful story, Kevin summarised why he enjoys leading and travelling on ACE wildlife tours:


It's partly that you're there in nature, not quite 24 hours a day, but you're there in nature much more than you'd normally be. So during an ACE tour, you're able to just be out with the group all the time. There's lots of pairs of eyes looking around, not just mine, so you see a lot. And it's just these chance observations that you can't plan for. It's not like going to a museum. You could say, “Exhibit A is over here, it's really interesting”, and we do do that - which is fascinating. But you actually walk into a field or onto a bit of coastline, and you've got no idea what you're going to find, really. And that's the fascinating part of it.


At the end of April, Kevin will return to the colourful and diverse ecosystems of Crete on ACE’s Crete: Birds, Flowers & Minoans tour. Travellers will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Crete’s awe-inspiring springtime landscapes, and the chance to witness the island’s rich and varied wildlife and learn about aspects of its ancient history.


We have limited availability in various room types on this tour. To see the full tour details please click the link below:


View 2024 tour details


Image credits:

Turtle tracks | Jean-Lou Justine via CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED

Turtle nest protection | Jules Verne Times Two via CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Rescued hatchlings | David L. Jones via public domain

Adult loggerhead | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

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