Like a Turtle on its back: My Archelon Experience
Stepping off the plane into scorching hot sun and being bombarded with alien symbols was a culture shock, to say the least. That first day alone in Greece was an experience like no other and now every challenge I face will be a breeze in comparison. Everyday thereafter, I was pushed out of my comfort zone into a place where I could grow and develop in several ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The month-long project changed me as a person and provided me with essential knowledge and skills that will only benefit me as I move forward with my life.
Living in close quarters in such a foreign place with people of all backgrounds was a truly unique and eye-opening experience. Heat, work, exhaustion, and uncertainty bring out the worst in people, so I learned to be more patient and empathetic to others. We were all in the exact same situation, so being vulnerable together made us all develop close friendships that I’m sure will last years. Because all the volunteers were from different countries and backgrounds, my eyes were opened to new customs and I now have a greater appreciation and respect for foreign languages and habits unlike my own. Being from Canada, I am regularly exposed to foreign customs and languages, but living in the thick of it in a tiny Greek town cause me to be more aware of others, a trait that I’m sure will follow me going forward.
I never realized how much work went into what seemed at first to be a small conservation project. I was awestruck at how many people put in hours and hours of voluntary hard work to help just one species in such a small area of the world. Being part of the project made me realize the dedication of so many people to conservation, which in turn inspired me to care even more than I already did. I was aware of the life cycle of sea turtles before I arrived at the project, but I had no idea of the countless challenges they face daily and especially in nesting and hatching season. Over the course of just a few weeks, sea turtle conservation became my life. I’ve already informed all my friends and family members. “Have you heard about the turtles?” has become my regular greeting. I know that my individual contribution to the project made almost no difference to the fate of the sea turtles, but without the collective involvement of every person in Archelon, things would be much different. It’s comforting to know I was part of something that actually makes a huge difference in the world. I feel personally attached to each and every Loggerhead turtle out there and am helping create awareness and a larger and larger ‘cheering section’ for them that will hopefully result in their recovery and stability.
A huge bit of the project had to do with public awareness and a connection with local businesses and tourist venues. I learned how important and how difficult it is to maintain positive relationships with everyone that has an impact on the sea turtles and their fragile habitat. This is a task that I hadn’t dealt with before, and it intrigued me to see how people not directly involved with the project were so understanding and interested at times. It’s easy to believe that most people don’t care about the environment or conservation of species, especially coming from a Western culture, but it was heart-warming to witness the curiosity and concern that so many people demonstrated.
I have always been interested in animal conservation and hope to pursue it as a career once I graduate university. This project with Archelon has given me valuable insight into just how much work goes into the protection of just one species. I am more knowledgeable about sea turtles and their lifestyles, and about the general impacts of tourism and development on ecosystems as a whole. I am inspired to do all I can to protect what remains on this planet and to motivate more people to care for the precious sea turtles and every other living thing. I once heard conservation biology to be defined as ‘the integration of experience and empathy’ and this project fits perfectly with that description. My experience with Archelon woke me up from my individualistic worldview and set off a wave of empathy in me that will hopefully spread like disoriented hatchlings to encompass the entire globe.