The day is split into sections and various people are allocated to different shifts throughout the day. We have work to do in the Environmental Center, which tourists have the opportunity to visit and ask questions about the project, donate money to the research project or volunteer their services. This shift lasts three hours in the morning and another three in the evening.
There is a night shift starting at 10pm until 6 or 7am. During the night female turtles come up onto the beach to nest and it is our responsibility to monitor the beaches (using only the light of the moon since flashlights could scare the female from nesting). We have to report any false crawls where turtles have abandoned nesting as well as actual nests. When the female turtle is laying her eggs, she enters a trance which is very hard to disturb and this is our chance to record her tag number (or tag her if she is untagged), measure the curved and straight length and width of her shell, sketch the pattern of barnacles or other parasites on her shell, record the time of night and the duration of each stage of nesting; the total duration of nesting is anywhere between 1-2 hours. All of this is used to compile a yearly report which we can also use to compare to previous information known about the turtle. If we are unable to catch the turtle while she is nesting, or if she is making a false crawl, we have to catch her if possible on her way down to the sea and record her tag number. This can be difficult because sea turtles weigh about the same as humans. If one person is unable to restrain the female while the other records the data, sometimes a turtle must be flipped onto her back, however this is only used as a last resort.
Once the sun comes up, the morning beach shift (around 6am) has to locate and record the exact positions using a GPS system of the nests reported by the night shift. We have constructed markers all the way along the beaches which facilitate this process but it can be quite time-consuming. We actually had our first two nests of the season just last night, so we spent quite a bit of time this morning recording all of this information, which we use to relocate the nest after the incubation period of 50-60 days.
We have an afternoon shift on the beach from 5-8 which is used to talk to and educate tourists about sea turtles in the area, pick up garbage and request from hotels which have sun-beds on the beach to move them off the beach for the night. This is usually a pretty relaxed shift, although it can be hard walking the 3km of beach back and forth since it is usually still quite hot.
Finally, we have what I call the super-shift! This shift requires us to monitor a beach located about 13km away. You have to go in the morning to find turtle tracks before they have time to be erased by the waves or unsuspecting tourists, so we are required to leave the house between 6-6:30am.
First you have to bike up a long and very tiring hill for approximately an hour and drop the bikes off at the beginning of a path down to the sea. The walk to the beach takes about 20-30 minutes. Once you patrol the first beach which is rather short, you have to canoe over to the next beach which takes about 30 minutes. The next beach is approximately 2.5km in length, and it takes roughly an hour and a half to patrol the whole thing. Sometimes you have to replace missing markers that have been moved around using the GPS. Once you’re done, you canoe back and walk up the hill to the bikes and begin the nice bike back down hill. The whole shift takes around 5 and a half hours and is probably the most physically draining, although very beautiful since the beaches are susceptible to very little tourism so they are gorgeous and very clean, with beautiful clear water.
Unfortunately, since the only time female turtles come up to nest is during the night and males do not leave the water at all to visit the beach after birth, it is very hard to get pictures of sea turtles. We are not allowed to take pictures at night so as not to scare the turtles and stop them from nesting. There is a permanent population of turtles that live nearby in the town of Argostoli, and come out to feast on the refuse from fishermen at 9 or 10am. Hopefully I will have some pictures from them, or maybe some under-water ones from morning or afternoon swims when the turtles are roaming the waters near the beach. Otherwise, I’ll have to wait until the hatchlings emerge, when I will most probably have a good opportunity to catch many hatchlings on camera!