My first weeks with ARCHELONElizabeth Willis ‘13 | July 17, 2010
I have been with ARCHELON for two full weeks now and it has certainly been interesting! In terms of shifts, the rota works pretty much the same way as with the Katelios Group. There are four sectors of beach that we monitor, each around 2km long.
We have a night survey from 11pm-3:30am approximately which only covers A sector and half of B and O sector. Then there is a morning survey from 6am until whenever you get done which covers all of A, B, C, and O sectors. Finally there are four 3-hour sets of kiosk shifts from 12am-12pm in the village of Kalo Nero where we inform tourists and sell some turtle merchandise. We are living in tents on a campsite 2 minutes from the beach, so there are also cooking and cleaning shifts to make sure that the camp stays clean and everyone is happy!
As with the Katelios Group, there are people of different nationalities and educational backgrounds; many people are volunteering without any interest in studying conservation or marine life. The number of volunteers fluctuates between around 25 and 35 with some people coming to volunteer for as little as a week and some staying for the whole season, from May until September.
Data collection is more organized here at ARCHELON. We dig every possible and every tagged nest until we find the top layer of eggs and take depth measurements and triangulation distances from the nearest marker. Then we carefully cover the nest back up and cover it with a grid, stake in bamboo sticks to keep it in place and put up a nest sign with information and a nest number. The reason why we stake out the nest and protect it with a grid is to prevent predation, which is the main threat to hatchlings. Foxes, dogs, sea gulls and sometimes humans will dig up nests in an effort to get to the eggs. From now on in the season we expect to find more nests uncovered from hatching or predation that were missed earlier on. Tagging the turtles is also a little bit different. ARCHELON uses three tags: a plastic tag on the hind right flipper, a metal tag on the front left flipper and a PIT tag (a little microchip that can be scanned) which is injected into the turtle’s right shoulder.
I had my first morning survey on Saturday July 3rd and it was very eventful! I learned all the new data collection procedures that ARCHELON uses and I even got to relocate a nest on my first day. It was really exciting to handle the eggs and transfer them higher up the beach. Once the eggs have been in the nest overnight they are very similar to ping pong balls in both size and texture. They even make little indentations that refuse to pop out if you press in a little too much!
Since my first day I have had quite a few night and morning surveys and seen about 10 turtles. Unfortunately there is no reef in the area due to dynamite and drag fishing so you don’t see any turtles while snorkeling. I have done a total of four nest relocations, which were all very successful and on one of my morning surveys we even set the record for the most nests on one sector in a day: we had a total of 18 nests! One nest has started hatching, 7hatchling tracks were observed on the 13th of July and 4 more tracks were observed on the 15th. We also had a “nest found by hatching” on the 16th that wasn’t marked out that must somehow have been missed when the turtle laid. We expect a mass emergence of hatchlings before we excavate the nest. Nest excavations happen 9 days after the first hatch or a maximum of 70 days after the lay date if no hatchlings are observed from the nest. The first excavation will definitely be exciting!
Kyparissia Bay, my current location, is probably the second largest nesting site for Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in Greece. At the moment we have 635 nests on the beaches that we monitor, which is a record compared to last year (439) and the year before (484) at this time. We are hoping to break the Kyparissia record of 770 nests by the end of the season and even set a new record of over 800 nests. We shall see!
Apart from turtle activities, we have become a pretty close-knit group and play volleyball almost every night, swim on the beach together, play many rounds of cards and occasionally take trips into Kyparissia and go on hikes in the area. I am definitely having a wonderful time and learning a lot. Time is flying by; I can’t believe I have already been here for two weeks! Now that hatching season has started and nesting season is coming to an end (we usually get the last nest around the beginning of August) I will be experiencing turtles in a different light. The anticipation of seeing my first hatchlings (and not just the tracks) almost makes me want to get up bright and early every morning!