Argostoli is the capital town of Kefalonia, situated on the south-west coast of the island. The town's harbour borders the bay of Argostoli, which is naturally protected from the open sea by the Argostoli and Paliki peninsulas. The shallower end of the bay blends into the Koutavos Lagoon, where the warm waters become home to a number of sea turtles during the summer season, with a few turtles also spending the winter there.
These turtles exhibit a rare behaviour. Every morning, they concentrate in the harbour of Argostoli, where fishermen dock their boats to clear out their nets and fishing lines, and to sell the previous night's catch. Tourists also concentrate in the area to admire the turtles, and occasionally try to interact with them, causing disturbance or even danger in their effort.
The coastline along the south of Argostoli is rich with short, narrow beaches, colourful cliffs, and rocky outcrops. These beaches, spread across a wide area, form an important nesting habitat for Kefalonia's sea turtles. Loggerhead sea turtles lay their nests in these narrow beaches during the summer. The turtles emerge out of the sea and crawl towards the back of the beach to find the best possible location to lay their eggs in. On average, sea turtles in this area will nest successfully one out of three times they emerge from the sea to make a nesting attempt. After nesting, they follow a lengthy procedure to camouflage their eggs and protect them from predators.
Sea Turtle Conservation
The Argostoli field station surveys over eleven beaches in the most populated area of Kefalonia. Due to the extent of the area to cover, three morning survey teams patrol this area daily. These beaches vary in length with some being just 100 metres to others being just over a 1 kilometre.
From late May to early August, you will patrol the nesting beaches to find sea turtle tracks on the sand from turtles that emerged during the previous night. You will then assess the tracks and verify the presence and location of eggs. You will mark this location so it is clearly visible and collect scientific data that are useful for the best protection of the nest and for analysis.
During the hatching season, from late July to October, you will check the beach for hatchling tracks and record their origin and orientation. Occasionally, in the early mornings you will come across newly emerged hatchlings crawling to the sea, which you will observe until they make it safely to the sea. After a nest has hatched completely, you will conduct nest inventories to assess its hatching success and other parameters.
Sea Turtle Behaviour Studies
A number of adult and sub-adult sea turtles swim in the Bay of Argostoli and the Koutavos Lagoon during the summer and some of them even through the winter. Every morning, many of these turtles concentrate on the harbour front of Argostoli, where fishing boats return with the morning's catch. The turtles that swim along the harbour spend time feeding off the bivalves that colonize the harbour walls, eating fish scraps the fishermen and tourists throw in the water, and exhibiting a variety of behaviours between them. This gives us the unique opportunity to study their feeding behaviour and their social, mostly antagonistic interactions. It also allows us to perform regular health checks on these turtles.
During sea turtle observation surveys, you will observe these turtles and record information regarding their foraging and social behaviours. You will also take photos that will be used in our photo identification catalogue to aid in the identification of individual turtles, and in the understanding of the size and dynamics of the local population. If a turtle under risk is spotted, usually having swallowed fishing hooks and lines or plastics, you will help our team capture the turtle and treat it or transport it for further examination and treatment.
You will also patrol many nesting beaches in the late evening. In these surveys, you will use equipment and methodology under development at our project to measure the extent and distribution of light pollution in this nesting habitat. This information is used to demonstrate the extent of turtle-disturbing light pollution on the beaches of Kefalonia, and to help us prioritize the nests that will require close monitoring in the days prior and during hatching to prevent hatchling mortality due to orientation disruption. The equipment we are developing is aimed to allow other projects around the world low-cost access to this specialized equipment.
During the hatching season, nests deemed at risk from light pollution will be protected by teams who stay on the beaches. During this time, you will conduct experiments to evaluate the orientation behaviour of newly hatched turtles as they attempt to crawl towards the sea, in response to present levels of light pollution. The results will help us better predict which nests are under risk of orientation disruption, and will also be useful in demonstrating the extent of the problem of light pollution and the lack of controls that could limit the problem.
Our main mode of transportation in the Argostoli Area is our fleet of bicycles and our team's van. The coastal road near Argostoli has gentle slopes, with a small number of hills along the way. This makes it easy to cycle to the town and the harbour, and towards the south until the beaches of Lassi. Further south, the road turns uphill up to an elevation of about 100 metres before rolling down to sea level again. You will reach this area both by bike and with our van, depending on the time of day and conservation work to be performed. You can also use the bikes in your free time to visit Argostoli and its surroundings. To visit the rest of the island in your free time, you may be able to organize getting the bus or ferry, or even grouping together to rent a car.
You will be staying in a rented apartment, sharing a room with other members of your team. The accommodation includes a shared kitchen, bathroom, and a balcony with a large table for group gatherings and our evening meals. All rooms have a shared bathroom with hot water and kitchenette that is equipped with cookware, utensils, and a shared fridge. The team organizes a weekly food kitty (~€30 weekly) for communal meals. The kitty is vegetarian and the participation is not mandatory as it is done solely for the benefit of the volunteers.
A day in the life of a volunteer in Argostoli
“Last night was our last night of training, which prepped me for today’s morning survey. We monitored the Avithos area, cycling to four beaches to check them for new nests. On the first two beaches there were no nesting turtle tracks, but on the last beach we had two tracks! On the first, the turtle had tested the sand a bit, but decided to go straight back to the sea. The second was shorter; she had just came out and gone straight back to sea. It was so cool to see her marks on the sand...”
Read more of a day in the life of a volunteer in Argostoli
Key Project Differences
With regard to field survey shifts, there are two main differences between our field station in Argostoli Area and our field stations in Skala and Lixouri Area.
There are no night surveys to observe and tag adult turtles in Argostoli, because nesting in this area occurs over many small beaches, and is more evenly spread out, making it difficult to predict where the turtles are more likely to nest. In Lixouri and Skala, the team will patrol the main nesting area during the night to spot, measure, and tag the nesting female turtles.
However, turtles concentrate and can be observed regularly only in the harbour of Argostoli and the Koutavos Lagoon, which is also in Argostoli. There are no adult turtle observation shifts in Lixouri and Skala.
Hear from a previous volunteer...
“I stayed in the Argostoli project for 2 weeks in 2015 and had such a fun time. I really liked that we were able to cycle to the various beaches we surveyed, as not only was it environmental but it was also a great way to see the beautiful landscape more slowly than if we’d been in a car. Plus it was a great work out! I would definitely recommend the Argostoli site to anyone! One of the biggest bonuses is that you can literally just go straight across the road to the beach and cool off in the sea!”