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  • Writer's picturevsigston

Heroes in a half shell

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

Quite a few people on my social media pages have been interested in our volunteer work with Wildlife Sense here in Kefalonia, in fact my Instagram reel showing the cheeky face of Amelie the turtle has been my most watched video for a while.

So I thought I'd pop a bit more information and some more photos here for those who would like them.

The first thing to know is that here in Kefalonia, the beaches around the island and the warm lagoon waters at Argostoli harbour are home to Loggerhead turtles (Caretta Caretta), and Argostoli is one of the few places in the world where you can see these wonderful animals all year round. They come to nest on the island beaches in the summer and some never leave when winter arrives. They spend their time in the shallow waters, finding easy food and extra scraps from the Argostoli fishermen and women.

Wildlife Sense are a research and conservation project who's main aim is to protect this threatened species. During the summer they monitor nesting beaches, marking and protecting the nests until the eggs hatch. They will even find the owners of artificial lighting around the beaches to ask if they can switch them off. Baby turtles will head to the sea after they hatch but bright artificial lights can leave them disorientated and heading in the wrong direction. If the lights can't be dimmed the team shade the nest sites instead.

During those busy summer months they have volunteers from all over the world come and help with their work. These volunteers spend time patrolling beaches, protecting . nesting sites, monitoring hatching events and will also help with injured turtles.

Once the nesting season is over and most of the turtles leave for warmer seas the majority of the volunteer team leave too, a core group staying through the winter in case of turtle injuries etc.

Our timing of arrival here meant we had missed the egg laying season but when we contacted Wildlife Sense to see if there was anything we could do to help they were thrilled and told us that the boys could carry out some "Harbour Patrol" sessions. It is really useful for their research (in fact for research on these turtles all over the world) to follow the habits of these creatures during the winter months too. They need to know which turtles have stayed around, where they are spending time and if they look healthy.

The organisation don't tag the turtles, they prefer to use photo ID, a non invasive method of collecting data. They use the patterns on the turtles heads, called scutes, to ID each individual. These patterns are like human fingerprints in that they are unique on each turtle and so tell us who they are. They photograph these scutes (along with any other identifying features, such as damage to fins or shells) and then load the photos into their database. Annya from Wildlife Sense told me it's like Facebook for turtles!

So, that's our "job". A couple of times a week we take a walk along the harbour at Agostoli, scanning the water for signs of life and, when and if we do see the turtles we try to get good, clear photos to send to the team so they can update their database with fresh photos as well as info about the dates and times the turtles were seen.

Most of the time we see at least one turtle on our trips - both boys have become incredibly good at spotting them and we are then found pacing up and down next to the water hoping they'll take a breath close enough for a quick snap.

It's funny how you start to spot their personalities - Phoebe is a curious, outgoing young lady who will always pop her nose up to give you a check over before getting back to grazing on the crustaceans on the sea wall.

Melia is much shyer, she has a damaged fin, probably from a fishing line entanglement a few years ago, and although we've seen her a few times we've never got a clear photo, although we did use our cheap and cheerful GoPro under the water to grab a quick video which was enough to ID her from and make it into the database.

It's such a rush when we a) spot a turtle and b) get a good photo because not only do we all love wildlife and any interaction with animals is great in our book, but it's also great knowing we are helping a brilliant organisation with some really important work.

I hope that as we continue our journey over the next year we'll have more opportunity for the boys to work with charities and animal conservationists such as Wildlife Sense, caring for and helping the natural world is so important and if we can come out of our adventure knowing we've made even a small difference we'll be happy.

So we'll make as many harbour patrols as possible in the rest of our time here and be very thankful that we can. If you are ever in Kefalonia, even just for a few days, head down to the harbour and do a bit of turtle spotting for yourself, you never know, if you manage to grab a pic it might make the turtle hall of fame.

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