04/12/2023

Notes of a volunteer (Part 1): Jessica Van Damme was at the Rescue Centre

During her 6-week stay, there were more than 30 injured sea turtles being treated at the Rescue Centre. Seven of them were successfully released, but, during the same period there were five new arrivals – all turtles with human-caused injuries. “We, humans, are their biggest threat”, Jessica Van Damme writes. Jessica volunteered at the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre for 6 weeks in 2023. More of her notes are shown below.

  • The majority were loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and 3 were juvenile green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). The sea turtle injuries that I witnessed included carapace injuries from collisions with boats, flipper injuries from entanglement, fishing line and hook ingestions and -the most common one- head traumas.

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  • Every 3 days, we are taking the sea turtles out of their individual tanks and we clean both the turtles and the tanks. Cleaning is very important in order to avoid the build-up of algae, which can predispose them to skin infections. In the ocean, this is the job of the fish and is an example of a symbiotic relationship.

  • While the turtles are out of the tanks, they get treated by both Eirini and Mike. Treatments include: cleaning and debridement of the wounds, pain killer and antibiotic injections and fluid therapy for the more critical patients or new arrivals.

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  • The rehabilitation length varies between turtles and ranges from several weeks to several months and even years, depending on the extent of the injuries. Despite the many success stories, some turtles don’t make it.

  • The turtle “Chewtle” arrived at the Rescue Centre on September the 23rd with a fishing line coming out of his cloaca. One week later we found him dead in his tank. Perhaps he also had a hook that perforated his intestine.

  • The two loggerheads named “Mila” and “Donkey” made remarkably quick recoveries in less than 2 months. Both had surgery to remove the fishing line hooks they had ingested.

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  • On the other hand, Lilo, a green sea turtle which had been at the Centre for over 2 years, suffered from a head trauma. Lilo is the first sea turtle I was lucky to see being released. Its release was a hugely significant day for those who had witnessed Lilo’s long rehabilitation process.

  • For a sea turtle to be released, we must make sure it is in good control of its buoyancy, so that it can dive and feed normally underwater, it can rest on the bottom and return to the surface to breathe. Before their release, sea turtles are placed in a larger tank for at least 14 days, so that these keys factors can be assessed.

  • Some sea turtles will be released with missing flippers, but that is quite safe and they will do very well in the ocean. Sky is a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle that was missing a front left flipper. She was successfully released…

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At the end of her notes, Jessica summed up her time as volunteer at the Centre as follows: “I had such a nice experience at ARCHELON and it felt like my work and time here was valued. The team was great and it felt like we were all truly making a difference. I highly recommend visiting the Centre or volunteering here, if time permits”.

A heartfelt thank you to Jessica and the volunteers and supporters of the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre from everyone in ARCHELON!

Learn more about volunteering at the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre here

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