Archelon is a society that activates for the protection of the sea turtle Caretta Caretta that lives in the Mediterranean Sea and lays its eggs on the sandy beaches of Greece. With a wide network of stations in southern Greece and many educational programs, the primary objective of Archelon is to protect the sea turtles and their habitats in Greece through monitoring and research, habitat restoration and rehabilitation of sick and injured turtles.
Archelon has its headquarters in Athens and stations in Zakynthos, southern Peloponnese and Crete. The director of Archelon, Mr Theodoros Benos-Palmer, talked to Greeka about the creation of this society, its aim and activities.
How was Archelon created?
In 1977, Dimitris and Anna Margaritoulis observed for the first time the eggs of the sea turtles Caretta Caretta during their summer vacations in Zakynthos and they both noticed that there wasn't a systematic protection of these turtles in Greece. That is how they decided to establish a society for the protection of these endangered sea turtles. When Archelon was established in 1983, there was no other society or activity towards this aim in Greece.
Where are your stations all around Greece?
The most important nesting region of the loggerhead sea turtle Caretta Caretta is the bay of Laganas in Zakynthos. As a society, we have done important efforts to limit tourist development on the nesting beaches. For example, building is strictly regulated on these beaches and vehicle use or artificial lighting is not allowed. We have other stations in Crete (Rethymno, Chania) and Peloponnese (Kyparissia, Gythio and Koroni).
What must tourists take care of so that they won't destroy the environment of a sea turtle on a nesting beach?
There are many simple things that people can do to protect the sea turtles and their nests, which are officially protected by the Greek legislature and international treaties. For example, they must not undig the nests or move the protection nettings above them. Moreover, do not throw plastic or nylon objects in the sea because the sea turtles think they are jellyfish, their basic food, so they eat them and die. Do not light fires at night on these nesting beaches and do not drive vehicles on the sand. Also do not touch the baby turtles because it is very important that they reach the sea by themselves and do not go to these beaches for night swimming.
What are the reasons of injury or death of a turtle?
Most reasons for the injury or death of a sea turtle are caused by man. They may be caused by accident (involvement in fishing tools, e.g. nets or longlines), on purpose or after eating rubbish. Also, accidents are sometimes caused by speedboats and fewer times these turtles are hunted by natural enemies, such as seals or sharks. Once an injured sea turtle is found, it is transferred to our centre where it is treated until set free.
Can you give us some numbers? How many sea turtles live in the Mediterranean Sea?
We can't specify this number. Every year in Greece, about 1,000 adult (above 25 years old) female turtles are registered but we have no idea of the number of the male turtles.
How many eggs does a female turtle lay?
Each nest has about 100 to 120 eggs but only 75% of these are covered. The eggs are covered in the hot sand for about two months. However, the sea turtles have a large death rate. It has been estimated that only 1 out of 1,000 sea turtles finally reached the sea from the nest. Later on, this turtle will come back as an adult turtle to lay its eggs on the same beach that it was born.
How can someone help your society?
There are three main programs for volunteers. First, there are summer voluntary programs in the nesting beaches that take place from mid-May till mid-October. In this program, volunteers occupy with the protection of the sea turtles and their nests, take care of the station and inform the public on our aim. There is also another volunteer program in our Rescue Centre in Athens, where the injured sea turtles are transferred and treated. The third program involves the Communication Volunteers, who organize tours at the Rescue Centre, constitute the staff of the information stations and help in public events. It is worth mentioning that the majority of our volunteers come from abroad and we are happy to gather people from different cultures around a common mission.
The Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Athens is located in the 3rd marina of Glyfada and is open to public on the weekends, 11.00-17.00 (entrance free)