Monthly Archives: June 2014

Kyparissiakos Bay Project

Conservation projects differ from location to location based on the local environmental conditions and resources available. Here in Kyp, the predators (dogs and foxes) require that we protect each nest with grids, and the availability of bamboo allows us to repurpose the natural litter along the beach to stabilize the grids and aid in further protection.

Teams of two to four people per sector work together to monitor all four sectors of beach across a span of over 10 km every morning. The first step is locating the new sets of tracks from the previous night, made obvious by the upturned moist sand below. Next, we follow along the track to determine the turtle’s nesting activity. She may have a swim, body pit, abandoned egg chamber, and/or a nest as her final activity. The direction of the nest is also recorded. If a nest is present, the egg chamber must be located and protected, and a sign is added to notify beach goers of the grid’s purpose.

Data is collected on the nest location by GPS, distance from shore, distance from the start of the beach sector, and top egg height. If the nest is too close to the sea it is at risk for inundation, and must be relocated. During relocations, additional data is collected and steps are taken to ensure the nest is as similar to the original as possible and that the eggs are not exposed for any longer than necessary. Environmental data is also collected, such as car tracks on the beach, fishermen, boats, fires, and dog activity.

There are also teams of two to three people who go out each night to locate, tag, and collect data on the nesting adult turtles. I have not yet experienced a night survey, but those who have gone thus far are seeing increasing activity. Sometimes a turtle will come ashore injured or wash ashore dead. This is referred to as a stranding. In the case of an injury, the turtle is assessed and may be taken to the Sea Turtle Rescue Center. In the case of a dead turtle, data is collected and the Coast Guard are informed to collect the remains.

The collection of data from all surveys not only helps us to keep track of the nests, future hatchlings, and fate, it also allows us to see patterns in activity and understand how the loggerhead sea turtles utilize the area, as well as how to better protect them. I have taken on the responsibility of transferring the data from all sectors into the main database, and thus am able to see what data are analyzed, and how.

Having settled in quickly here, I hope to take on more responsibility over the course of the next three months in all areas of the project, from morning and night surveys to training volunteers to organizing bamboo collections and shopping trips. Each day brings a new adventure in Kyparissiakos Bay, and I welcome it with dirty, open arms.

Loggerhead tracks with dog tracks:

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Measuring top egg height:

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Relocating eggs:

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Placing the grid:

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Securing the grid and protecting the borders:

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The final product:

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Associated paperwork:

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The Most Beautiful Camping in Greece

Archelon, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, is so named after the skeleton fossil of the sea turtle Archelon Ischyros, which grew to a length of over 4 meters long. The Society recently reached its 30th anniversary, having been created in 1983. Archelon now consists of nine surveying/monitoring/protection camps around the coast and islands of Greece, various environmental centers and information stations, and a main office and Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Athens.

Nesting season begins in May, and by the time the first nesting turtles arrive on the beach, leaders and a few volunteers are ready to collect data. In the Apollo Camping Village of Kyparissia, also referred to as Kyp, there are currently over 20 of us “turtlers” involved, with some early arrivals having already left, and new volunteers rolling in every few days. Many people are required to carry out the various duties on the beach and at camp.

The majority of Archelon volunteers come from England, Greece, France, and Germany, in that order. The United States, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, China, and Brazil are also currently represented in camp. There have been several conversations filling the air regarding nationalities, languages, and accents, with everyone having varying experience with the common ground that is the English language.

The accommodations:

The signs on the way to the campground boast Apollo as “The Most Beautiful Camping in Greece”. The campground has a main taverna (with restaurant and internet access), a bathhouse with washroom for clothes, and a few camping sections for tents and RV’s. A large section of the campground is devoted to Archelon, where we have 22 tents, an open-air shelter with beds and air mattresses (for daytime naps), bathrooms, a three-walled kitchen, and a long, colorful communal table.

In the kitchen, there is one small sink with a cut-off hose faucet, a two-burner stove with lighters to ignite, and a refrigerator severely lacking meat. Food is cooked in old pots and pans and is eaten off mismatched plates. One pan lid is even constructed out of a stick. But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Gone is the reliance on chicken as a base for every meal, on jarred sauces and cereal. Back home, I am used to eating healthy according to American standards, but here fresh vegetables and fruits have a much more prominent presence. And more importance is placed on the people with whom you share the kitchen, rather than the flies with whom you share the bread.

For meals, everyone puts 20 euros into the “kitty”, and a few assigned group members go into town for shopping twice a week. Everyone may also buy two personal items each shopping trip for the additional cost of the goods. I have chosen to settle in a bit longer before deciding whether I need a personal stash of anything (i.e. ham or chocolate).

Despite the many differences between the lifestyle I’ve come from versus the lifestyle I’ve settled into over only the past few days, I feel very natural and at home here. ­­Surprising, considering that I am in my most unnatural state: surrounded by people. But these people are worldly, open-minded people whose quirky comments end up on the Quote Board (“We are monsters, we are men, we have muscles.”) and whose food ends up in my tummy. And it is good.

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The Princess and the Peanut Butter

After one to several field seasons of living in a tent, research field assistants become experts at packing light and maintaining themselves on bare necessities. I am not one of such people. Yet.

Instead, at the risk of instantly being mistaken for a princess, I have filled my luggage to the gills with a large tent, air mattress, pump, and more peanut butter granola bars than a person should ingest. Not much room was left for clothing, but one does not need more than three pairs of underwear for three months’ time when one has granola bars, surely?

In all the haste of packing for a summer in Greece while finishing out another school semester, it consistently slips my mind that I will be gone for three months, or that I will finally be able to see a nest of one hundred loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings poke through the sand and scurry to the sea. Occasionally I day dream about cooking out of a three-wall kitchen in an olive grove along the Gulf of Kyparissia with a team of European gap year students, all younger and more liberal than myself.

This sea turtle research internship with the Archelon Sea Turtle Protection Society is expected to be challenging, educational, and incredible, and I do not expect to return without changed perspectives and shattered comfort zones. This blog will be the record of my journey and a chance for us to learn together about the sea turtle program and experiences of interning abroad. Ela kai pame! (Let’s go!)