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Volunteering in Greece – Protecting Sea Turtles

Witnessing baby sea turtles crawl out of the sand like little ants is a memory that I will cherish forever. It was the night of the full moon and we were giving a public presentation at our campground about the plight of the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles, when a gentleman whispered in the Presenter’s ear…

Within minutes the volunteers were buzzing about. A nearby restaurant reported that a nest was hatching in the middle of their dining tables! We grabbed some supplies and headed down the beach. Up ahead we saw a lot of commotion. We joined the crowd just in time to see tiny turtles scrambling in every direction and bystanders grabbing them up and ushering them to the Sea. We got to work right away shouting instructions to the dinner guests “Do not pick up the turtles; they need to make the journey through the sand to the water to strengthen the flippers.” “Turn off your lights, they follow the brightest light.” I went about stopping the traffic, going by and asking them politely to turn off their lights so as not to confuse the hatchlings.

The restaurant cut their outside lighting and furnished the volunteers with flashlights so that we could guide the disoriented hatchlings back toward the sea. We followed the hatchling tracks to ensure that they were all accounted for. When the last of the hatchlings had successfully reached the water, everyone applauded and cheered!

Volunteering in Greece for the Mediterranean Sea Turtle Conservation project was an experience of a lifetime. I, along with 20 other volunteers from around the world, worked tirelessly each day to ensure that the turtle nests were protected. Because the turtles lay their eggs at night, we needed to be the first people on the beach surveying for fresh tracks to locate and protect the nests.

Waking up at 5am was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. The excitement for what awaited us on the beach trumped any sleepiness that was remaining; the sunrise alone was magnificent enough to wake up for! When we found fresh tracks, we followed them up the beach where the mother turtle tested out the sand to see if it was suitable for nest. Sometimes the mother turtle encountered man-made obstructions and returned to the sea. Other times, there appeared to be a camouflaged nest and we dug carefully into the sand until we located a turtle egg. Then we gently covered them up with sand, laid a metal grate over the nest, and surrounded it with bamboo poles to protect it from natural predators such as stray dogs or foxes and unsuspecting humans driving on the beach.

Following morning surveys, the volunteers took turns performing other camp duties such as cooking meals, cleaning, community outreach and harvesting bamboo. In addition to the morning surveys, a team also went out on night patrol to ask beach goers to extinguish any fires or flashlights so as not to disturb the nesting mothers. Volunteers worked an average of 4 hours a day and the rest of the time was available for your leisure. This time could be spent napping and sunbathing on the beach or exploring the nearby attractions such as shopping in town or taking a day trip to the caves down the road. For the more sporty types, wind surfing lessons were also available!

I am so grateful for organizations such as GoEco, for they provided me with a meaningful and rewarding experience that most people only dream about.