02/10/2009

STORIES OF TURTLE NIGHT MADNESS

My first night survey of this season was on Gerakas beach, in Zakynthos. It is beach that is surrounded by low cliffs and there is fifty meter wooden ramp that leads down to the beach. Tom Backof and I had tracked a turtle to the back of the beach. She hadnʼt attempted to nest yet so we decided to leave her alone. We do this because the turtle is very sensitive in that phase. After 15 minutes, Tom went crawling off to find her. I saw him returning immediately “Kostas, you ʼve got to see this”, he told me. The turtle was sliding down the wooden ramp! We both assumed that the turtle must have climbed at least 25 meters up! Of course, the turtle realized that this was not an appropriate place for her to nest and she returned to the sea. A turtle returning to the sea without nesting is something that happens quite often and she will try again and again until she finds the right spot.

Another night, again at Gerakas beach, me and another volunteer Faye Karavasili spotted a turtle track that went very far at the end of the beach. “I am going to check the turtle to see what she is doing”, I said to Faye and I started crawling. I crawled to the back of the beach, where the vegetation started but I still couldnʼt spot the turtle. Nevertheless I could hear some strange noises coming from behind a bush. Going a little bit closer where the sand slopes were steeper I saw something that surprised me. The turtle was on top of the bush. She then moved on, fell from the bush, flipped over once and slid down the slope! “I saw these tracks in the morning but I couldnʼt explain them”, Jack Suss, morning survey leader the following morning said to me. All the other volunteers were astonished when I told them the story, as it had never happened to them before. And these incidents happened during only two nights, some would wonder how many strange things must have happened during these thousands of years that the sea turtles have been coming to Zakynthos to nest.

When a sea turtle lays her last eggs, the next thing she does is to cover the egg chamber and then camouflage her tracks. More specifically she flicks dry sand behind her, with her strong front flippers. One night, I was behind a turtle that had finished nesting and she was covering her eggs. I was checking her carapace for injuries and then the turtle started camouflaging by throwing sand directly into my eye, totally blinding me! Discussing with the other volunteers I found out that the same thing had happened to them as well. Dobro Debska, one volunteer, was telling me that she was so excited while she was watching the turtle that she had her mouth open and as a result the sand from the camouflage went into her mouth! The following nights I decided to be more careful when the turtle is in that phase. It wouldnʼt be too much to say that watching this ancient creatureʼs effort to reproduce is the closest I have ever been to nature! At the same time you learn to respect the animal and more generally the nature and that provides you with extra motivation to volunteer for its survival

Kostas Papafitsoros ARCHELON volunteer the three last years in Zakynthos, maybe the best in his life so far

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