Greece

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Volunteering at Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Morning survey on Dafni beach

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Gerakas, one of nesting beaches in Zakynthos

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

An illegal bike track on the beach in contact with a turtle track

 

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Tourists surrounding a turtle

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!

Monitoring

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Turtle tracks leading to a nest

 

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

A protected nest

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Watching the sunrise at Laganas

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

A group of hatchlings heading to the sea

Public Awareness

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Public awareness on Nefis Travel

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.
Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Taking part in a beach clean of Laganas

Camp life

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.

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

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!

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

Cameo island

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!

Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of GreeceVolunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

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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Volunteering At Archelon: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Red Nomad OZ (Marion Halliday)
    September 3, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Wow, what a great experience – even if it does mean living in a tent for a few weeks! It sounds very similar in some ways to programs to protect nesting turtles along parts of Australia’s east coast. I visited one in Bundaberg, Queensland – you wait until the night volunteers find a nesting turtle, then they take a small group to observe. It’s so sad that people don’t respect the habitat – helping to preserve this unique species must have been very rewarding!

    • Reply
      Laura
      September 3, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      Oh wow – I didn’t realise there were experiences like that offered in Bundaberg. Turtles can be very easily disturbed so I imagine everyone has to be very quiet haha! You’re right, it’s extremely rewarding to know I’ve helped them, even if in a small way! 🙂

  • Reply
    Nina Danielle
    September 4, 2017 at 2:30 am

    This is amazing! I’ve always wanted to volunteer with sea turtles, I didn’t know that Greece was somewhere that I could do that! It’s nice that Greece has introduced rules to protect the turtles too.

    • Reply
      Laura
      September 4, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      I would 100% recommend it! Such a rewarding experience 🙂 yes it’s great they’ve produced rules… they just need to enforce them a little bit more!!

  • Reply
    Jessica
    September 4, 2017 at 4:10 am

    What an amazing experience! To be able to get immersed in the community and give back. I bet the little turtles appreciated that!

    • Reply
      Laura
      September 4, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      I hope so haha!

  • Reply
    Tami
    September 5, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    Great story! Love that you left us all with information we probably didn’t know and a new motivation to help wherever we can. I sure hope the population of sea turtles increases as a result of your volunteer efforts!

  • Reply
    Holly
    September 8, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Beautiful sunrise. Nice to see after you have been sitting out there all night doing surveys. They are so cute making their way to the water.

    • Reply
      Laura
      September 16, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      That definitely was a bonus!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Maira
    September 15, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    What an incredible experience, this has opened up my eyes a whole lot! I participated in a project about raising awareness regarding the effects of littering on animals and the Earth and ever since, I have been wanting to continue to make a difference in some way. Oh, and the turtles are so cute ❤️

    http://www.lovefrommaira.co.uk

    • Reply
      Laura
      September 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      It’s shocking how much our actions can effect wildlife isn’t it! When I took part in the clean of Laganas beach we found mostly straws and cigarette butts, some of which were already floating in the shallow part of the sea. I think education is key in raising awareness (and yes, the turtles were very cute!!) 🙂

  • Reply
    Helen
    September 22, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Hi Laura! Thank you for sharing your experience with Archelon. I too volunteered with my son and daughter as a family for a week (that’s all they allow for families) in Koroni, south west of Kalamata. I can honestly say it was the most rewarding experience for us. Not only did we feel we contributed to a very important cause helping the sea turtles, but we met wonderful people and were able to explore a beautiful part of Greece.

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