Meet the Intern - Matthew Cotter

Matthew Cotter

Hi everyone, my name’s Matt and I’ve just graduated from the University of Leeds where I read Biology (Hons). The ‘Wildlife Sense’ project seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to go out into the field and put my new skills to use! I arrived with high expectations and wasn’t disappointed. Coming to Kefalonia and seeing all the work that is going on is inspiring, and this was only increased when I got fully involved as an intern and began my project; studying the correlation between the depths of nests in the sand with the hatch success of the nests.

To carry out my project I needed to take measurements of the distance from the surface of the sand to the very top of the top egg in a nest. I was able to gather the data of hatching success by performing excavations on the nests. Excavations were done seven to ten days after the first hatchlings managed to climb out of the nest and get to the sea. This is a sufficient amount of time to allow any healthy turtles to exit the nest. Any remaining in the sand after seven to ten days were either not going to make it or were already dead. By carefully extracting all the eggs in the nest, I was able to categorize them into: hatched, pipped, early-embryo, mid-embryo, late-embryo or embryo eye-spot. I calculated the percentage of eggs in each category and compared each nest with others of different depths to see if there was a significant difference.

Matthew in the field

My results showed only a very slight positive correlation with the coefficient = 0.028. This suggests that nest depth does not significantly impact on the hatching success. There seemed to be two outliers in the data which hinted that nests buried between 25-34cm deep show low hatching success but whether or not these points are reliable is, as of yet, inconclusive. To get a more accurate interpretation more tests need to be carried out as my studies were only carried out on 7 nests as they were the only ones that hatched during my time here. There are many other factors that can affect hatching success such as infection, shading and flooding, all of which should be taken into account when studying hatching success.

I’m so glad I took part in ‘Wildlife Sense’ as I feel it has not only improved my knowledge but it has also given me a realistic insight to what would be involved and expected of me as a scientist working in the field. The experiences I’ve had will definitely help me in the future and will act as base knowledge for many other scientific roles. I am grateful to Chanel, Nikos and Emma for giving me this fantastic opportunity, where it was so easy to fit in with the project and allowing me to feel like I’m making a difference and really contributing to the world by helping these endangered species, one hatchling at a time.

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Tags: conservation, sea turtle, Kefalonia, volunteer, research, hatchling, sea turtle nest