The summer winds downElizabeth Willis ‘13 | August 14, 2010
Even though the summer was winding down and I was starting to get ready to leave ARCHELON, the work we had to do did not let up. My last week and a half with ARCHELON was especially busy as I worked, in addition to my scheduled shifts, to help train new arrivals for morning survey and boxing shifts and explained how we record the data and why. I was also put in charge of a group of Greek Scouts that came to do community service since I was the only Greek speaker on camp at the time. The scouts worked hard to clean up garbage along the beach and clear away any debris that had piled up in front of the nests so that hatchlings would have a clear path to the sea. They managed to fill around 20 bags of garbage and cleared the paths in front of hundreds of nests in the span of an hour. When they were done with their work, I delivered a slideshow presentation about ARCHELON and the work volunteers do. All of the kids were enthusiastic and asked many questions afterwards about the requirements to volunteer and what they could do to help out. It was a very successful morning!
I had a boxing shift on Friday, August 6th. Many people have described boxing shifts as “journeys into the dark depths of the soul” where sleep deprivation can make you see or think the strangest things. I was on shift with Jess, one of my good friends from Scotland. Boxes are placed over nests under direct influence of light (from hotels, tavernas or street lights) so that any hatchlings that come up at night are trapped in the box instead of coming out and heading in the wrong direction toward the light. During a boxing shift, one checks all the boxed nests for hatchlings. If a hatchling is found in the box, it is placed in a bucket full of sand and then taken to a release point further along the beach that is dark.
Jess and I left camp at 9:30pm and passed by the information kiosk to pick up tourists that were interested in coming with us on our first check to see hatchlings. Since we had a mix of Greek and foreign tourists, Jess would go check each of the boxes placed over the nests while I explained things to the tourists and answered any questions. By the end of the first box check, Jess had picked up 10 hatchlings. We showed these to the tourists, who were allowed to take pictures without flash, and for about ten minutes the hatchlings were fawned over by adults and children alike. Finally we managed to take the hatchlings back, say goodbye to the tourists and go release the hatchlings in the dark so they could make their way to the sea.
The boxes on the nests have to be checked every 1.5 hours from 10pm until 5:30am (a total of 6 checks), so you get between 30-45 minutes of sleep between checks if you are lucky. This amount of sleep is not enough to be rested, but it is enough to disorient you and make you feel slightly crazed! There were quite a few times during the night where I would wake up imagining things and spending the rest of the box check trying to figure out and convince myself whether my imaginings were real or not.
In the course of the night, Jess and I found and released 20 hatchlings. It was frustrating when we had checks that yielded nothing because then we would wish we had just kept sleeping. But then when we found a few hatchlings during a check our excitement was renewed and we would spend a few minutes at the release point just watching a waiting as the babies made their way to the water and got swept away by the waves. When we finally got back to the camp at 6:30am, stumbling, groggy and a little grumpy, we found morning survey just getting ready to leave. It was a strange feeling to be going to bed when others were just getting up to start their day!
I had my last morning survey on Tuesday, August 10th. I remember getting up at 6am and feeling a mixture of excitement, trepidation and nostalgia. It was my last shift with ARCHELON! As I got the bag ready and prepped my team, I told everyone that I really wanted to find a new nest on my last survey. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, because they would rather not spend a lot of time digging in the sun looking for eggs. Within 5 minutes of starting morning survey we found one little hatchling making its way to the sea, so one of my team stayed behind to shield it a bit from the sun. We came across about 25 nests in total that morning that were hatching for the first time, so we had to write out the hatch date on the nest stones and nest stick and fill in the date that excavation was due.
I did end up getting my new nest, and I found the eggs pretty quick so my team was happy too that they didn’t have to dig for hours! I felt ecstatic to be ending my morning with a new nest, especially since we are right at the end of nesting season now and new nests are getting few and far between. We found two more nests later along the beach, although they weren’t new. One was a nest found by predation, and the other nest was found by hatching. So I got to see it all on my last morning survey! We had hatchlings, adult tracks, all three types of possible nests to find and we were done by 9:30am. It was a great way to end my season with ARCHELON!