When Louise and Roger Ketley returned from a series of family scuba diving and snorkelling holidays at Rocktail Bay in northern Maputaland (KZN), it was with more than fond memories!
Having witnessed turtle nesting and hatchings, these Chartered clients set the goal of volunteering with a project to fulfil their hope of witnessing baby turtles’ frantic race to the sea. This objective recently found its fulfilment in a conservation programme in Greece – a volunteering project that suited both of the Ketleys, as a ‘senior’ married couple.
Louise and Roger signed up for the final two weeks of a programme run by GVI (Global Vision International), a UK-based volunteer organisation focusing on wildlife conservation and community-based projects around the world. Here is their experience in their own words.
Duties and discoveries
Based in Giannitsochori, a small, traditional Greek village, we were housed in a modest and comfortable bungalow with proper bedding, a private toilet, hot shower, air-conditioner and bar fridge. We met the other volunteers and staff members at dinner in the campsite taverna (it became a welcome oasis with superb local cold beer, metaxa, and first-class coffee!).
We were seven volunteers (the average age of which shot up to about 35 once we joined!) and three GVI staff members: two Spaniards, two Columbians, two English, and one American and Hungarian, plus us two South Africans … 10 in all, and only two men. Being somewhat older than the others, we did not know quite what to expect or how we might fit in, but the GVI staff made us feel welcome and we enjoyed mixing with the youngsters – I couldn’t help wishing that I was 40 years younger!
The project coincides with the loggerhead turtle nesting and hatching season (June to September) during the hot summer months. Although we had the weekend off, we three new volunteers received a briefing on that first Sunday, and then duties for the week were allocated to the teams. Volunteers participate in different roles depending on the time in the season, including daily beach surveys to record nesting activity and to protect turtle nests against predation by mammals and inundation by sea water, measuring the turtles and recording data, excavating nests, stacking protective nest grids, and camp duties when not on surveys. Volunteers also provide important conservation information to overseas visitors and the local community.
In the stretch of beach monitored by both GVI and ARCHELON (the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece) were over 3,000 turtle nests: the beach was segmented – both north and south of the camp site – and in the GVI areas alone, spanning roughly 10 kms of beach, there were over 800 nests. September being the end of the season, many had already hatched, but we still expected to see some hatchlings. Nest excavations would be our main task, though, as it is important to determine how successful nests had been.
Morning beach surveys started at 6h30 (with a beautiful sunrise over the inland hills), with lunch and dinner at the camp site – and a welcome siesta in between. Those conducting beach surveys walked long distances on soft beach sand (at least five kms in the hot late summer sun, so keeping hydrated was important) carrying equipment such as grids, bucket and grass broom, while the GVI leader carried equipment required for nest monitoring, excavation and data collection purposes.
Camp duties included cleaning and cooking, and stacking protective grids once returned from an excavated nest. Provisioning and cooking were interesting challenges given special dietary requirements, from vegans, vegetarians and low carb diets to straight-forward carnivores! The local water is drinkable, but we bought bottles of spring water just in case.
Each beach survey team comprised the GVI leader for the day plus two or three volunteers; the camp duty team consisted of the two remaining volunteers, while the third member of staff would have a day off, or would shop for supplies or collect the two survey teams from the beach. The plan was to be back at the camp site for lunch. On occasion, after dinner, we would enjoy a spectacular sunset swim together.
www.gvi.co.uk (there are projects in South Africa – wildlife conservation, including Elephant research in Limpopo.)
Hooked on the Ketley’s account of their volunteering adventure? Don’t miss the last instalment by clicking on the article below:
And for Roger’s Record of Turtle facts, click on the article below: