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.
During the months of May through October, nesting beaches are monitored for high levels of light pollution. This helps us prioritise the nests that will require close monitoring in the days prior to and during hatching to prevent hatchling mortality due to orientation disruption.
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 bicycles and the team's van. The bikes will primarily be used for most shifts and the van will shuttle harbour shifts to Argostoli in the mornings and evenings. Both project locations are in close proximity to the beaches and these can be accessed by foot during the day, out of shift time. Many volunteers like to explore the island with the local (however not frequent) public buses and sometimes even group together to rent a car.
You will be staying in rented apartments. The accommodation includes a shared bedroom, bathroom, small balcony with a table (per room) and a large garden full of fruit trees, and an area full of picnic benches used for group gatherings and meals. As an environmentally friendly organisation, hot water is available during daytime hours. There is also a kitchenette per room that comes with cookware, utensils, and a shared fridge. You will be able to shop in local grocery stores and use the project facilities for your own meal preparation.
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 stations in Argostoli and Lixouri.
There are no night surveys to observe and tag adult turtles in Argostoli. In Lixouri, the team will patrol the main nesting beach during the night to spot, measure, and tag the nesting female turtles.
Turtles concentrate in high numbers in the Argostoli Harbour and in Argostoli their behaviours and feeding habits can be monitored. In the Lixouri Harbour, there are much fewer turtles so instead of collecting information on their behaviours, we are spotting them to understand where they spend their time during the day.
Hear from a previous volunteer...
“I loved how hands-on the project was from the beginning and how trusting the leaders are to let you help with hatchlings and adult turtles. The shifts are all enjoyable whether it’s net spotting and watching the beautiful Kefalonian sunset, or strolling the harbour on the lookout for a glimpse of a turtle head. I have loved every aspect of my experience here and I can not thank Wildlife Sense enough for solidifying for me that I want a career in marine research and conservation.”