I have a confession to make: when I was eighteen I visited Zakynthos with a group of friends and saw nothing besides the hotel pool and the famous Laganas party strip. So this summer when I returned I was determined to do something of value. I was there with a specific purpose: to volunteer at Archelon, the sea turtle protection society of Greece.
So what exactly is Archelon all about? Well, in this post I’m going to give you a little bit of insight into the life of an Archelon volunteer…
What is Archelon?
Archelon is a non-government organisation, whose main objective is to protect sea turtles and their habitats in Greece. They work within the major loggerhead sea turtle nesting areas in Greece: Zakynthos, the Peloponnese and Crete. Every year, Archelon relies on the help of volunteers from around the globe to ensure that the loggerhead nests are protected from human threats and predations.
You can find out even more about Archelon here.
Why is Zakynthos so important?
Zakynthos, otherwise known as Zante, is one of the most important nesting sites for loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean. Each year, from the beginning of May until the middle of August, loggerhead females lay their eggs within the Bay of Laganas in the south of the island.
The only problem is that the turtles share their nesting season with an influx of tourists who visit in the summer months to holiday on the exact same beaches. Unfortunately, the increase in tourism has lead to a range of problems for the loggerhead turtle. Archelon works alongside the National Marine Park in order to monitor the beaches, the loggerhead sea turtles and to raise public awareness.
What threats do the Loggerhead turtles face?
The loggerhead turtle are a vulnerable species. They face many human-related threats at all stages of their life. Some of these are:
- Accidental capture in fishing gear
- Disruption during the nesting process: Adult female loggerheads can be very easily spooked whilst attempting to lay their nests. Noise and light pollution can scare them straight back to sea without even attempting to nest.
- Disruption during the hatching process: Hatchlings use the light of the moon to guide themselves to the sea. However, noise and light pollution coming from nearby bars and hotels can disorientate them and send them in the wrong direction.
- Boat collisions: A huge issue in Zakynthos is boat activity. Many travel at speeds higher than the legal 6 knots. As a result, turtles are often hit, causing serious injuries and, in many cases, death.
- Plastic ingestion: One of the main food sources for the loggerhead turtles is jellyfish. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult for turtles to distinguish the difference between jellyfish and plastic, so they end up eating plastic which cannot be digested.
With only 1 in 1000 hatchlings making it to adulthood, its clear that the work of Archelon is absolutely essential in conserving this incredible species.
The life of an Archelon volunteer
So what does an Archelon volunteer actually do? Well, volunteers in Zakynthos have two main roles. I’ll explain a little about what each is below!
There are a few different ways in which we monitor activity on the beaches; these are through surveys and patrols.
Morning survey: Each morning in Zakynthos seven different morning survey teams wake up at the crack of dawn and head to the beaches in order to monitor turtle activity. This involves finding turtle tracks and determining whether or not a nest has been laid. If there’s a nest, volunteers take measurements and place protective cages over nests that are at risk. Occasionally (if you’re really lucky) you might even spot a nesting turtle.
Night survey: During night surveys, volunteers spend all night monitoring the beaches, looking for nesting turtles. The main purpose of this is the tagging programme, where turtles are tagged in order to monitor their movements, but it also allows us to gain information about the size of the turtles and any sears or injuries they have.
Hatching season: Hatching season begins in mid-late July, after the 6-8 week incubation period. We try to have as little interference with the hatchlings as possible. However, if they are struggling, we try to help them. Some of the ways we (and you) can help hatchlings are:
- Blowing on them gently if they have fallen back to sleep.
- Scraping away the hot sand in front of them.
- Shading them with towels.
Beach patrol: The beaches within the Bay of Laganas are all closed after 7PM so as to not disrupt the turtles. Archelon volunteers patrol the beaches in the evening and at night in order to ensure everyone is aware of this.
The Greek government has introduced measures for the protection of the area, which include prohibited night flights, rules for turtle-spotting boats and different protected zones within the Bay. However, these laws are often poorly enforced, which makes public awareness such a crucial aspect of Archelon.
Some of the ways in which we inform and educate the public about the work of Archelon are:
- Presentations: These take place at hotels and on boat trips, informing the public about the threats to loggerhead turtles and the work of Archelon.
- Information kiosks: In popular tourist areas, such as Laganas, Kalamaki and Zante Town, we have information kiosks. Donations can also be made for a range of different merchandise.
- Turtle releases: Occasionally, turtles that have been rescued and rehabilitated at the rescue center in Athens are returned to the sea from Zakynthos.
- Beach cleans: Archelon collaborates with other organisations such as Greenpeace in order to clean the beach of rubbish.
At Archelon, the volunteers live on a camp site where the living conditions are basic. Other shifts can include cooking, cleaning and organizing the camp. Not the most exciting part of the job, but necessary all the same. Camp life is very chilled out, where we spend the majority of time eating gyros or lying in hammocks!
When not working, Archelon volunteers either head to the nearest beach, which is Kalamaki, or to the nearest pool. However, there’s a reason why so many tourists visit Zakynthos each year! It’s an incredibly beautiful island, so it would be rude not to explore! There are so many places to see, so days off include exploring the other sights on the island.
How can you help?
The survival of these beautiful creatures all depends on us! So if you’re heading to Zakynthos any time soon, you can help by:
- Choosing an eco-friendly boat tour company such as Nefis travel.
- If you hire a speed boat, ensure your speed is no higher than 6 knots. Always be on the lookout for turtles, and if you see one, try to stay 10-15m away at all times.
- Staying away from the beaches within the Bay of Laganas between 7PM and 7AM.
- Always taking your litter when you leave the beach.
If you want to donate or if you’re looking for anymore information, you can always come and see Archelon at their information stands in Kalamaki, Laganas or Zante Town!
I had the most incredible five weeks volunteering in Zakynthos. It’s an experience I will never forget, and I would recommend it to anyone… as long as you can live in a tent for a minimum of four weeks!
Archelon, it was an absolute pleasure.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, or have any questions, please share or leave a comment in the section below!
Do you want to become a volunteer? Find out more here!
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