Volunteers working to save turtles

Every summer, about 450 volunteers from all over the world come to Greece to help protect the nests that the Caretta caretta (loggerhead) sea turtle digs in the sand on beaches around the country. The program is part of the work of Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, which since 1983 has been protecting the turtles and their habitats through monitoring and research, management plans, habitat restoration, raising public awareness and rehabilitating sick and injured turtles. These nests, and the young turtles that hatch their way out of eggs the size of ping-pong balls to crawl into the sea, are increasingly at risk from holidaymakers and tourist businesses which at best are unaware of the delicate beings hatching just under the surface of the sand and, at worst, do their best to damage them. And that is only part of the problem. At the Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Glyfada, where sick and injured turtles are treated and cared for until they can be returned to the sea, visitors see some of the other dangers these creatures have to deal with. The exhibits include jars containing objects removed from turtles’ digestive systems – pieces of wire, string, plastic and metal objects – the detritus of human life on the coastlines. Informing the public about these risks and helping to protect the nests is the work of the summer volunteers, most of them young students, who stay for periods of one to three months from April to October. The major loggerhead nesting areas in Greece are on the island of Zakynthos, around the Kyparissia and Laconikos gulfs and on Crete. The work had its beginnings in the late 1970s, when Dimitris and Anna Margaritouli began collecting data that proved the importance of Zakynthos as a nesting site and urged the government to protect the beaches. Recognition of the problem led to a monitoring project in 1981 and the state began moves to curtail development in the Bay of Laganas on Zakynthos. The rescue center opened in 1994 as a hospital and information outlet. Large tanks of water hold turtles being cared for until they can be safely returned to the sea. «We try to put them back where they were originally found,» Chrysanthe Otzakoglou, Archelon’s financial and human resources officer, told Kathimerini English Edition. «But that isn’t always possible.» The center is open to the public every day, from 1 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. The Archelon Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece has offices at 57 Solomou in Athens and at the Third Glyfada Marina. Talk about Archelon Founder Anna Margaritouli will be speaking about sea turtle protection society Archelon’s work on Monday, February 4, at the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature (HSPN, 20 Nikis Street, Athens), at 7 p.m. (tel 210.322.4944).