Saving Turkey's turtles from builders and boats

PHOTO: A sea turtle swims back to the sea following her release after treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center (DEKAMER) as tourists look on at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan in Mugla, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
A sea turtle swims back to the sea following her release after treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center (DEKAMER) as tourists look on at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan in Mugla, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.

June Haimoff first stumbled across a loggerhead turtle on Turkey's southern coast more than 30 years ago. It was a chance encounter that changed her life and the future of the beach she was wandering along.

PHOTO: An injured sea turtle is examined by Sea Turtle Rescue Center officials upon her arrival to the center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 18, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
An injured sea turtle is examined by Sea Turtle Rescue Center officials upon her arrival to the center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 18, 2018.

Already beguiled by the 4 km (2.5 mile) stretch of sand, which forms a natural barrier between the Mediterranean Sea and the reed-lined freshwater inlets of the Dalyan river, she set up home there in the 1980s and soon fell in love with the turtles.

PHOTO: Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea following their release after treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea following their release after treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.

Three decades later the 95-year-old Englishwoman still has a shed overlooking Iztuzu beach, which she has campaigned to protect from developers and to preserve as a natural environment where the threatened turtles can breed.

PHOTO: Professor Yakup Kaska dresses a wound on a baby sea turtle at Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
Professor Yakup Kaska dresses a wound on a baby sea turtle at Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.

"When I first saw a sea turtle laying eggs, I watched without moving. I remember tears in my eyes," she said. "From that day I started to collect any kind of information about them that I could."

PHOTO: A sea turtle swims back to the sea following her release after treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center (DEKAMER) as tourists look on at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan in Mugla, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
A sea turtle swims back to the sea following her release after treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center (DEKAMER) as tourists look on at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan in Mugla, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.

In 1987, Haimoff and a group of friends fought successfully to block a hotel construction project which would have endangered the turtles' breeding ground on the beach.

PHOTO: Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 17, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 17, 2018.

Since then the beach has remained under protection. All construction is banned as well as artificial lighting at night, when holiday makers are kept away and the turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

PHOTO: A sea turtle returns to the sea after laying eggs at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 4, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
A sea turtle returns to the sea after laying eggs at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 4, 2018.

After its conservation success, Iztuzu also became a regional focus for turtles, with the establishment 10 years ago of the Sea Turtle Rescue Center, which treats injured turtles from beaches across Turkey.

PHOTO: Sea turtle eggs which will be transferred to a safer part of the beach are seen in an open nest at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan,Turkey, July 4, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
Sea turtle eggs which will be transferred to a safer part of the beach are seen in an open nest at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan,Turkey, July 4, 2018.

The group's president, Yakup Kaska, who first volunteered at Iztuzu in the early days of the conservation project, says the main threats the turtles face are getting struck by boat propellers, swallowing or getting tangled in fishing lines, and eating clear plastic items which they mistake for jellyfish.

PHOTO: Local cruise boats carry tourists on the Dalyan river from Iztuzu Beach to Dalyan, Turkey, July 6, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
Local cruise boats carry tourists on the Dalyan river from Iztuzu Beach to Dalyan, Turkey, July 6, 2018.

Haimoff, fondly known as "Captain June" because of her love of the sea, teaches visitors about those threats to the turtles, and trains her young students in environmental preservation.

"I'm a woman in love with the turtles," she says.

PHOTO: Sea Turtle Rescue Center officials inject beeswax into the shell of a sea turtle which was injured by a boat propeller, at their center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 18, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
Sea Turtle Rescue Center officials inject beeswax into the shell of a sea turtle which was injured by a boat propeller, at their center at Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, July 18, 2018.

PHOTO: Professor Yakup Kaska puts a sea turtle back into her open-sea cage after a medical check at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center off the shore of Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.Umit Bektas/Reuters
Professor Yakup Kaska puts a sea turtle back into her open-sea cage after a medical check at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center off the shore of Iztuzu Beach near Dalyan, Turkey, Aug. 25, 2018.

Story and Photography by Umit Bektas

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