After spending 62 days working with Archelon- The Sea Turtle protection society of Greece- on the beautiful island of Zakynthos, I can honestly say that I have had the experience of my life. The organisation deals primarily with the Loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta and works hand in hand with the marine reserve present in the bay of Laganas. Every morning we would be down on the beach for 6am to monitor the turtle activity that took place that night. We would GPS all the tracks on the beach and dig in the sand for the eggs if we had a nest. Sometimes digging could last for an hour, but everytime we uncovered the top egg it was so rewarding! If the nest was in an area with lots of tourists, we would put a wooden cage on top to protect the eggs from being trampled.
The project at Zakynthos has a big public awareness programme where volunteers would work on information kiosks, give informative presentations at hotels and go on turtle spotting boats to provide information to the tourists on the boat and to record the violations and turltes swimming in the bay. This programme gave me a really valuable insight into how important public awareness is within a conservation programme and that a project such as this one can not exist without the generosity of the public. The public awareness work was always great fun and was a fantastic opportunity to get the tourists as excited about the turtles as we were!
My favourite part of the project was the night surveys that were carried out on three of the beaches in the bay. One of which was a private, secluded beach that the public had no access to. During these surveys, we would keep people off of the beaches, but the most exciting part was that you got to watch the turtles laying their nests! We would also take down any tag numbers, measure their carapaces, and check both the flippers and carapace for injuries. It was a fantastic experience to be so hands on with the turtles! Occasionally we had nesting turtles that were missing flippers and we had to help them dig their egg chamber in the sand. On one night in particular, I helped a female who we nicknamed ‘Shelly’ to dig, as she is missing her entire hind right flipper and she laid her eggs! This was the most rewarding part of my time in Greece as it can be very difficult to get turtles with missing flippers to nest.
Towards the end of my time at Archelon, the first nests of the season begun hatching and I am lucky enough to say that not only did I find the first hatched nest of the season, but that I was also the first person to see the little hatchlings themselves! Nineteen black little hatchlings, the size of a matchbox, emerged from the sand at about 7am and scurried down to the sea. It was a fantastic way to wrap up my time at Archelon and I would highly recommend the journey to anybody with an interest in conservation or marine life.