• Emily

Who are Wildlife Sense?

In my recent posts, I have talked a lot about volunteering abroad as a way to travel solo and get involved in marine conservation. However, I left the question of where to volunteer open. So where is best to volunteer? Somewhere that interests you and in an area which you are passionate about. For example, I volunteered at Wildlife Sense in 2019 and 2021. I had such an amazing time and want to inspire you all to volunteer abroad too!


Keep reading to find out about Wildlife Sense and my experience volunteering abroad! To find out why volunteering abroad is great then check out my recent post here: https://www.living-nomad.com/post/how-to-travel-solo-without-actually-going-solo



Who Are Wildlife Sense?

Wildlife Sense is a sea turtle conservation project on the island of Kefalonia in Greece. They focus on the conservation and protection of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and more recently green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Mediterranean. Loggerhead sea turtles are classed as being vulnerable and green sea turtles are endangered on the IUCN Red List. Both species have a decreasing population, so conservation is essential to protect them from becoming extinct.


My Experience at Wildlife Sense

I first volunteered with Wildlife Sense in July 2019 which is nesting season. I then signed up to volunteer again in 2020 but unfortunately was unable to travel for obvious reasons. Instead, I went the following year in September 2021 for the hatching season. I really enjoyed both of my visits and loved the work I was doing to help protect the sea turtles. It was extremely hard but rewarding work. During the volunteer period, I completed several surveys to collect data to ensure the protection of future turtles but I also got the opportunity to survey adult turtles and hatchlings.


Every volunteer stays in a house in the local town of the project, sharing rooms with 1-3 other volunteers. Some people came with friends but mostly everyone travelled alone. This provides a great opportunity to make friends and to get to know people from other cultures and countries. During my time at Wildlife Sense, I got to know people from Germany, France, Spain, North America and many other places! Everyone gets to know each other as you work with different people on every shift and then you get to spend the afternoons and your day off exploring and relaxing with others.


As someone who loves to travel, I really enjoyed getting to know the Island so that I can now share my knowledge with everyone to inspire your trip there! For more information about Kefalonia then check out my recent post here: https://www.living-nomad.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-kefalonia-greece ! My favourite part about volunteering though was seeing my hard work pay off. The joy of seeing baby sea turtles make their way to the sea is such as beautiful sight and knowing that you have helped to give them the best chance of survival is an amazing feeling.



What does a typical day at Wildlife Sense consist of?

As I have only volunteered during July and September, I can only talk about my experience during these times. Between May and July, you will find that you are working on new sea turtle nests, as this is when they are laid. Hatching season is between the end of July until around October, or whenever the last nest hatches! If you would like to see hatchlings make their way to the sea, then your best bet is to volunteer in August. However, you are never guaranteed to see turtles whenever you visit! This should not stop you from volunteering though as it is such a great experience and all of the work you are putting in, still helps the turtles. Even in nesting season, you can often see adult turtles and new eggs which have been laid. Whenever you decide to visit though, you can definitely get to see some adult turtles swimming in Argostoli Harbour!


When I volunteered in July, my typical day consisted of:

1. A morning beach survey shift, starting before sunrise. To start this shift you either walk or cycle to a nearby beach and patrol the beaches, looking for new turtle tracks. If any tracks are found then you will work together, with the help of Field leaders, to decide if a nest has been laid. If there is a potential nest, then you will have to find the nest and mark it out, to prevent any damage from happening to the nest. You will get the chance to lead one of these shifts during your time at the project. Sometimes you will not find anything during these shifts whereas, other times you will find lots of tracks!


2. Another morning survey which you might get asked to do is a harbour survey. During this shift, you will patrol the harbour looking for any turtles in the water. This is to ensure that any turtles in the harbour are not injured and to check numbers.


3. After the morning surveys you will have a chance to relax. Occasionally you will have to do some cleaning for the accommodation or data entry to input essential data which has been collected previously.


4. During the first few months of the season, you might get the chance to attend a tagging event. This is where a turtle in Argostoli Harbour is brought out to be tagged. This enables the project to see how many new turtles are in the area and how many have returned if they are already tagged.


5. There is then a range of evening shifts which you could be put on the rota for. This includes harbour/beach cleaning to prevent turtles from becoming entangled or ingesting rubbish. Beach profile shifts are also used to collect data from different beaches to see how they are changing over time. This is because turtles may have less room to nest if beaches are reducing in size. Lastly, you could also be called to an emergency nest relocation. This shift is normally decided on the day. During this shift, you carefully remove the eggs from a new nest and place them in a manmade nest in a better position. The eggs are only relocated if they are in danger of being too close to the sea or somewhere where they are likely to get damaged. For example, next to sunbeds.


6. The last shift which you might have is a night survey. You are only put on this shift if you have no shifts the next morning. This is because a night survey is where you patrol the beach with a group of volunteers overnight looking out for adult nesting sea turtles. During this survey, you walk to one end of the beach, have a rest and then walk to the other continuously during the night. I won't lie, this is a very hard shift to do so make sure to have a nap in the day beforehand! If an adult is spotted emerging from the water then you will carefully approach the turtle to take their measurements and tag number so that the information can be recorded. You may also get the chance to watch the nesting process during this time and see eggs being laid, which is really cool!



If you are volunteering in September, then the process is very similar but instead, it is geared towards hatchlings rather than adults nesting.

1. Your morning will once again start with a morning survey but this time you will be looking out for hatchling tracks, emerging from nests rather than adult tracks. If tracks are found you will then sometimes have to carefully dig into nests and remove any other turtle hatchlings and help them to sea. This is not always the case though as it depends on how long the nest is past its incubation and hatching dates.


2. The daytime and evening shifts are then the same as if you were volunteering in July. The only difference is that relocation shifts will be inventories instead. Inventories occur when a nest has completed hatching. To complete an inventory someone will dig into the nest and remove all of the eggs and shells whether they are hatched or unhatched. This is to work out how many eggs were in the nest, how many successfully hatched and how many didn't. Occasionally you will be lucky and get to rescue a few live hatchlings and help them to sea. This is important data to collect as it shows that turtle numbers are increasing.


3. Sometimes in the evening if you are not doing anything you might also get called onto an emergency shift. This normally occurs when hatchlings have been spotted emerging from nests by tourists. This is because they normally hatch at night and may need help navigating the busy beaches in the evening.


4. Lastly, the night survey shift will be a hatchling rescue shift. This is where you sleep on the beach, next to a nest which is in the process of hatching. Sometimes there will be multiple nests to check during the night. Before sleeping you will place a box around the nest to stop any hatchlings which emerge, from escaping. This is necessary as lights on the beach from buildings can confuse the hatchlings at night and cause them to go off course on their way to the sea. As hatchlings follow the light from the moon to reach the sea, getting confused by brighter lights can cause them to end up off of the beach. It is then your job to check the nest during the night, every hour and then release any hatchlings which have emerged into the box, further down the beach, away from the lights. The hourly checks can be divided up between the people you are on shift with so that you can still get some sleep, as long as any hatchlings do not emerge!



Overall, each day has a similar structure but each day can bring something new and exciting!


How to get involved?

If you would like to get involved or find out more, then you can check out the website for Wildlife Sense here: https://wildlifesense.com/en/ , to sign up! When choosing to volunteer, you can either volunteer at the Lixouri or Argostoli project. I volunteered at Lixouri both times and highly recommend it as it is such as beautiful area and you have great access to the town! Most volunteers pay to volunteer for 2 weeks, which is the minimum but you can also apply to volunteer for longer as well, with some volunteers out there for 4+ weeks.


Before volunteering there are some things to remember and consider:

1. There will be high levels of walking and cycling during the project as the main mode of transport is bike.

2. You will be sharing accommodation with lots of people, including sharing a bathroom too. So you will be responsible for keeping it clean and helping out when required.

3. If you are only volunteering for 2 weeks then you only get one full day off during your time there. However, you will have lots of free time to explore during the day as well.

4. Be prepared that you may not always get to see any hatchlings or turtles during your time at the project. This is not the fault of the project as it is based on the turtles which are wild animals!


None of these points are meant to put you off, they are just things to remember so that nothing comes as a surprise. Volunteering with Wildlife Sense is great fun and an exciting way to spend your summer!



Let me know below if you have ever volunteered somewhere!


Thanks for reading,

Emily


Keywords: Marine Conservation, Conservation, Volunteering, Travel, Sea Turtles

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