The town of Lixouri is situated on the Paliki peninsula, the western region of Kefalonia. Its south coast is lined with long south-facing beaches, among which Xi is famous for its red-tinted sand and bustling with tourists during the summer. The shallow waters between these beaches and the islet of Vardiani further south, with seaweed-covered rocky reefs scattered along the seafloor, form an ideal nesting habitat for sea turtles.
A number of loggerhead sea turtles lay their nests in these warm sandy beaches during the summer. The turtles emerge from the sea during the night and crawl to the back of the beach, looking for a relatively quiet location with deep, soft, and mildly moist sand to deposit their eggs in. On average, female sea turtles will nest successfully one out of three times they emerge from the sea.
After finding a suitable location and depositing their eggs in the sand, the turtles go through a lengthy procedure to camouflage the eggs' location. They follow this instinctive behaviour to ensure it is very difficult for egg-seeking predators to damage their offspring while they incubate deep in the sand.
Sea Turtle Conservation
The area of Lixouri has several nesting beaches, including the most popular beaches in the area that have unusual characteristics such as red sand and clay cliffs. Many travel great distances to enjoy the benefits of this nutrient-packed clay, however we must monitor it closely as it can suffocate nests during storm events as it runs down the cliffs. The unique red sandy beaches also create a shorter incubation period for the nests because it is a darker beach than many other nesting beaches.
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.
In the area of south Paliki, many sea turtle nests are laid in a relatively concentrated area. You will patrol this area in teams of two or three during the night to spot sea turtles as they emerge from the sea. You will then observe the turtles as they crawl to the back of the beach and wait patiently until egg-laying begins. When the turtle is about to finish laying her eggs, you will slowly approach her, perform a health examination, and use a specialized technique to place a uniquely identifying tag on her, and to measure biological data about this individual.
This information is used in our long-term capture-mark-recapture type of research that helps us understand the size and dynamics of the Mediterranean sea turtle population. Due to the degree of specialization required, you will receive extensive training before taking part on a night survey shift, and you will be supervised by an experienced researcher at all times.
Increasing development of holiday homes, hotels, and entertainment centres along the coastal habitats where sea turtles nest dramatically increases light pollution. This deters adult sea turtles from nesting on the beaches with most light pollution. Even low light pollution causes severe orientation disruption to newly hatched baby turtles that are trying to find their way into the sea.
Sea turtle nesting beaches south of Lixouri are exposed to a gradient of light pollution levels, ranging from almost no visible lights up to intense light pollution. While volunteering at the Lixouri area field station, you will spend some late evenings on the beach using specially developed equipment to measure and map the distribution of light pollution levels along the nesting beaches. At the end of the nesting season, this dataset will be correlated to the occurrence of successful and failed nesting attempts to understand the effects of light pollution on nesting females.
During the hatching season, you will use the same equipment to correlate levels of light pollution with the orientation behaviour of newly hatched turtles as they attempt to crawl towards the brightest area in the horizon - which in the absence of light pollution would have been the sea. Additionally, 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 Lixouri Area is our small fleet of bicycles. The landscape of South Paliki consists of small hills and valleys, making it relatively easy to cycle the 8km distance from Lixouri to the nesting beaches along the south coast. You will always cycle in teams and leaving at scheduled times, so you will never need to cycle in a rush. In your free time, you will get the chance to visit the coastline north of Lixouri, where at the north end of the inner bay it blends with the shallow marshes of Livadi, forming the island's biggest wetland. If you're lucky, here you can spot some migrating birds or even adult sea turtles basking in the shallow warm waters of the bay.
You will be staying in a rented apartment, sharing a room, kitchen, and bathroom with your teammates. A large balcony will host group gatherings and our evening meals. All rooms have a shared kitchenette and a bathroom with hot water, and are 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. There is a grocery store just 200m away from the apartments which you may frequent for additional personal shopping. The town square is just 600m where there are several restaurants, bakeries and cafes. The team will may have some outings in this quaint town square where you can taste the local cuisine and on occasions experience some Greek dancing.
Travelling to Lixouri
Lixouri is a 30 minute ferry ride from Argostoli. If you fly into Kefalonia on your starting date, a member of our team from Argostoli will meet you at the airport and drive you to the ferry, from there you will take the ferry to Lixouri town(~€3.00). Our accommodations are 500m from the Lixouri Harbour. If you travel through Athens and take a bus to Kefalonia, it will be best to take the bus that goes straight to Lixouri rather than stopping in Argostoli.
A day in the life of a volunteer in Lixouri
“Early this morning we cycled to the nesting beaches to conduct morning survey on Megas Lakkos beach, where I found and protected my third nest! There was a new volunteer in the team who’d just finished her field training yesterday, making for a great opportunity to explain to her more about how to find and protect nests. After walking the rest of the beaches looking for tracks, we returned back to the field station around noon.”
Read more of a day in the life of a volunteer in Lixouri
Key Project Differences
With regard to field survey shifts, there are two main differences between our field station in Lixouri Area and our field station in Argostoli Area. In Lixouri, we patrol the main nesting area during the night to spot, measure, and tag the nesting female turtles. This is not done in Argostoli, because nesting in that 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. However, in Lixouri there are no adult turtle observation shifts at the harbour; turtles concentrate and can be observed regularly only in the Harbour of Argostoli and the Koutavos Lagoon, which is also in Argostoli. If you wish to, you can take a ferry ride to Argostoli and see the turtles there in your free time.
Hear from a previous volunteer...
“For two weeks in September I stayed in Lixouri, a town which had a nice, relaxed tourist vibe. The accommodation at the apartment was peaceful and the group meals were great for both socialising and discussing project activities. On surveys, I really enjoyed cycling to the beaches and it's actually given me the confidence to continue back in the UK! Though not absolutely necessary, I'd maybe advise sneaking in a little practise before cycling around Lixouri. Sleeping on the beach at night during the 'hatchling rescue' shift is something to treasure - just remember to pack something warm to wear. I'd love to do it all over again, a great experience”