The town of Skala is situated on the southeast end of Kefalonia. This small town has grown into a popular tourist destination during the last 30 years. Its shoreline is lined by a wide sandy beach, backed by a coastal road and several hotels and bars, while the town's central pedestrian road is bustling with tourists visiting the many restaurants, cafés, and shops.
The beach of Skala and the beach of Gialou just south of the town are an important nesting habitat for loggerhead sea turtles. Before Wildlife Sense began a science-based conservation project in this area, the number of nests laid each summer was underestimated; it was believed that the turtles avoided this area because of the increased tourism. The goal of the Skala project is to record and protect sea turtle nests in this area, assess and reduce damaging activities, and to raise public awareness for sea turtles.
Protecting Sea Turtle Nests
The beach of Skala is busy with thousands of tourists during the day. At night, strong lights flood the beach with light pollution. By contrast, the beach of Gialou just south of Skala has a very small number of visitors. It is a very narrow beach and waves can reach all the way to the back of the beach during a storm. For these reasons, nests in this area must be found, marked, and monitored throughout incubation to prevent or mitigate any damage.
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.
While volunteering at the Skala project, you will have the opportunity to 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. This dataset will be compared to the occurrence of successful and failed nesting attempts to understand the effects of light pollution on nesting females and allow their application to conservation efforts.
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.
Volunteers at the Skala project conduct night surveys during nesting season (May to early August) as 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 performing health examinations and tagging females after they have laid their eggs. 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 specialisation required, you will receive extensive training before taking part on a night survey shift, and you will be accompanied by an experienced researcher at all times.
You will be using our small fleet of bicycles to get around the Skala area. The landscape is relatively smooth with small hills and valleys, making it relatively easy to cycle the 2.8km distance from our field station to Skala and the nesting beaches along the coast. You will always cycle in teams and leave at scheduled times, allowing you to enjoy your cycle and the lush scenery of the area. In your free time, you can cycle to the town centre where you will find a selection of bakeries, bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. You will also have the chance to visit neighbouring beaches, where you can swim among the Posidonia oceanica sea grass meadows.
Our field station is housed in apartments just south of Skala. This location is close to the town and the beaches of the area, and overlooks the surrounding coastline. You will be sharing a room with other members of your team. 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. Grocery stores in Skala are available for additional personal shopping, and the team will often organize evenings out at the local restaurants, where you can taste the local cuisine and on occasions experience some Greek dancing.
Travelling to Skala
Skala is about 1 hour's drive away from Kefalonia's airport. 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 bus station, from there you will take the bus to Skala (~€3.50). If you travel through Athens and take a bus to Kefalonia, it will be best to get off the bus at Poros, the entry port of Kefalonia which is close to Skala, and take a taxi (~€24).
Key Project Differences
With regard to field survey shifts, there are two main differences between our field station in Skala Area and our field station in Argostoli Area. In Skala, 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 Skala 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 bus to Argostoli and see the turtles there in your free time.
Hear from a previous volunteer...
“What I loved about this particular project is that as the team is much smaller and you stay in Skala for longer, you can really get to know your team and form much closer friendships and working relationships that last over your time working as a field researcher. Skala itself is a beautiful location and we monitor 2 beaches in the surrounding area. Gialou beach is a small secluded beach only a 20 minute walk from the accommodation and has beautiful crystal clear water; a great place to relax during time off. Skala beach is much busier and a main tourist location on the island, but it’s still beautiful and a great place for water sports and snorkelling to see some adult turtles; something which me and the rest of my Skala team took great advantage of! The beach is only a short cycle away and Skala itself is home to some beautiful shops, restaurants and bars all run by the locals.”