I heard about ARCHELON through friends from college. After finishing my studies I ended up working and just living day to day with no real plan for the future. A few meaningless and unsatisfying jobs later I decided to take my friends advice and volunteer my time somewhere meaningful to me and to my education background. My first taste of ARCHELON only lasted one short week in 2016 as a visitor to the Zakynthos project. I had always wanted to do some work in the field of conservation and this was my first real experience. I arrived on basecamp in Zakynthos in September of 2016 and was pleasantly surprised to receive such a warm welcome. But, it was the evening of my second day that I knew with 100% certainty that I was going to be back. Fast forward to 2017 and my mind was made up. Once I had enough money put together I quit my job left my rented house to volunteer. Thankfully, I can tell you without hesitation that my time in ARCHELON was nothing less than amazing. One of the best decisions of my life! As far as I have seen, many people call it a perspective-changing or even life-changing experience. I attended the Zakynthos Field Project as a volunteer from August until its end in mid-October. My only regret is not getting there sooner!
As far as I saw, for the most part, people who came to an ARCHELON summer field project stayed for a month or two. In my experience, the time spent in isolation from the outside world and surrounded by a close group of like-minded people had a great influence over my mindset about many different things. For me, things such as personal growth or gaining patience and understanding for others came hand-in-hand with a “basecamp” lifestyle. This kind of experience is invaluable in all walks of life.
During different times of the season, the monitoring of the nesting beaches involved different activities. Much of the monitoring workload consists of tagging turtles and finding nests (beginning to the middle of the season) or protecting nests/hatchlings and performing excavations (middle to end of season). Needless to say there was always a lot to do and the work was always interesting. As well as monitoring, it’s of equal importance to raise public awareness about the conservation efforts that are ongoing on the nesting beaches. And last but not least it’s very important to attempt to raise funds for the project to continue to run in the future.
ARCHELON summer projects are not just a financial investment in a charity that lies close to the hearts of the volunteers. Nor are they merely an investment of time in order to keep projects running efficiently. What makes people want to return year after year is the emotional investment made by each individual. Protecting wildlife and local ecosystems from anthropogenic threats alongside a team of dedicated volunteers, as well as wardens of National Parks (such as the wardens for the National Marine Park of Zakynthos) can invoke a strong emotional response. There were aspects of conservation that I witnessed during my time in Zakynthos that clearly took people by surprise. Seeing, first-hand, the vastness of the ecological and sometimes even political issues that affect our local and global ecosystems no doubt would take its toll over time. But no matter what, the resilience of the team of volunteers and Park
Wardens was always apparent. Volunteers who allowed themselves to really become involved felt great pride in each little win and, unfortunately, carried the losses equally deeply.
Once the end of the project was near, I realized that I was by no means ready to leave this line of work behind me quite yet. The remedy for my situation was simple. I began to volunteer in ARCHELON’s Sea Turtle Rescue Center for the next month. It turned out to be another way to get even more deeply involved in the organization and gain an understanding of the real need for constant fundraising and increased public awareness. The Rescue Center, located in Athens, provided me with great motivation to keep doing as much as possible for the organization. It’s nothing short of amazing to work up close and personal with the beautiful Caretta caretta.
During my time in Zakynthos there were a number of stranded turtles (injured or deceased sea turtles that wash up on beaches). ARCHELON is responsible for collecting any turtles on the beaches of Zakynthos during the time of the field projects. The Rescue Center is then responsible for treating and rehabilitating any injured turtles found on whole coast of Greece. During my time in Zakynthos, I was helping out on a stranding call for a live injured turtle. Once we brought the turtle safely back to basecamp, we eagerly awaited its transport to the Rescue Center that evening. This turtle ended up becoming very special to me personally. To respond to a rescue call and only a few weeks later be responsible for treatment, cleaning and feeding of this wild injured animal was one of the most moving and fulfilling parts of my time with ARCHELON. I would highly recommend to all people with a love for animals and nature to consider volunteering their time with ARCHELON, both in the Field Projects and especially in the Rescue Center.
I would like to sincerely thank all of my fellow volunteers during my time in Zakynthos for welcoming me, teaching me so much and for life-long memories. Thank you to the wonderful leading team of 2017 for the amazing work they put in. And finally, thank you to ARCHELON as an organization for making all of this rewarding work a possibility.