Volunteer in Greece and Support Sea Turtle Conservation on the Coast of Kefalonia

Volunteer to protect endangered sea turtles in Greece while getting hands-on field research experience, meeting new people and exploring the Kefalonian coast.

Volunteers can join the project for a minimum of 2 weeks and we have places available throughout the Summer

Individuals, groups and students all welcome.

Cost for accommodation, volunteer placement, training, airport pickup and drop off starts from £630.

Volunteers in the HarbourA rehabilitated sea turtleVolunteers doing a beach surveyVolunteers testing light pollution at nightHatchling crawling to seaKefalonia coastlineLoggerhead sea turtleVolunteers doing a nest relocationSea turtle on the beachBeach in KefaloniaVolunteers measuring light pollution levelsMale sea turtle swimming in ArgostoliMyrtos beachVolunteers in Lixouri

About the Project

Project Background

Sea Turtle Volunteers in Greece

Every year, sea turtles migrate to Kefalonia to forage and reproduce. Τhey try to find the most suitable locations for their nests, but human and natural threats damage and destroy many eggs. The turtles themselves are regularly injured or killed by accidental boat strikes, entrapment in fishing gear, or after swallowing plastics. Our goal is to study and protect the endangered sea turtles of Kefalonia and their ecosystems. To achieve this, we survey all nesting beaches to identify, study, and protect the turtles’ nests, we monitor the population's health and behaviour, and we identify threats and take conservation actions in response.
 

Volunteer Fieldwork Activities

As a sea turtle conservation volunteer in Greece, you will survey the beaches of Kefalonia to find and protect endangered sea turtles in the following ways;

 

  • Volunteers in GreeceSurvey teams cycle to the beaches in the early morning looking for fresh turtle nests, then mark, measure, and protect against damage all nests that were laid during the previous night and monitor their incubation progress.
  • As the young turtles hatch, volunteers help to protect them from light pollution and assure they can safely crawl to the sea.
  • After all healthy hatchlings have left the nests, volunteers conduct nest inventories to assess the fate of every egg and the hatching success of each nest.

 

Kefalonia coastline

Light pollution and storms are the two primary threats to sea turtle nests in Kefalonia. An important part of your field work will comprise of environmental studies to quantify light pollution and determine its source, and measuring the continuous changes of the nesting beaches and the distance of the water from nests. With this data, our team will be able to assess the risk to each nest and take timely actions to prevent any harm.

Project Locations 

Sea turtles nest along the entire south coast of Kefalonia. In order to monitor this extensive area, we operate our sea turtle conservation volunteer projects at two separate locations along the Kefalonian coast, Lixouri & Argostoli. There are a few differences between the activities in Argostoli and Lixouri, as follows;

There are no night surveys in Argostoli, however, turtles concentrate and can be observed regularly in the harbour from June to October. In Lixouri, the team will patrol the main nesting area during the night to spot, measure, and tag the nesting female turtles from June to July. There is no adult turtle observation in Lixouri. All other activities and experiences are the same for both locations.

Independent research projects and internships for university students

Sea turtle eggs on the beachIt is also possible for volunteers to receive internship or placement credits, to conduct an independent research project, or to gain work experience or community service hours. You will receive a volunteering certificate at the end of your stay, but for any of the above programmes you will need additional preparation, reading, and work while here and at home.

The number of internship spots is limited, and deadlines and requirements and a minimum volunteering period of four weeks apply, so please email us well in advance if interested.

Dates and Costs

We currently offer two different project locations that sea turtle conservation volunteers can work at in Greece, Argostoli & Lixouri. You can join either location for either 2 weeks or 4 weeks and starting on the specific dates below only (please note a stay of 3 weeks is not possible due to the fixed date slots, you can only volunteer for either 2 or 4 weeks). Interns can join for more than 4 weeks but placements need to be arranged well in advance (internship positions are fully booked for 2018). Please note that each location also has different start & end dates as below;

2018 Dates

Argostoli Location

Sea turtle volunteers on the beach

July 15th to 29th 2018 - Fully Booked
July 29th to August 12th 2018 - Fully Booked
July 31st to August 14th 2018 
- Fully Booked
August 12th to 26th 2018 - Fully Booked
August 
26th to September 9th 2018 - Fully Booked
September 
9th to 23rd 2018
September 
23rd to October 7th 2018

Lixouri Location

July 17th to 31st 2018 - Fully Booked
July 31st to August 14th 2018 - Fully Booked
August 
14th to 28th 2018 - Fully Booked 
August 
28th to September 11th 2018 - Fully Booked
September 
11th to 25th 2018

2019 Dates

Argostoli Location

2nd to 16th June 2019
16th to 30th June 2019
30th June to 14th July 2019
14th to 28th July 2019
28th July to 11th August 2019
11th to 25th August 2019
25th August to 8th September 2019
8th to 22nd September 2019
22nd September to 6th October 2019

Lixouri Location

4th to 18th June 2019
18th June to 2nd July 2019
2nd to 16th July 2019
16th to 30th July 2019
30th July to 13th August 2019
13th to 27th August 2019
27th August to 10th September 2019
10th to 24th September 2019
24th September to 8th October 2019

Volunteers in KefaloniaThe cost to join this project to protect endangered sea turtles in Greece for 2 weeks is £630 and 4 weeks is £900. This cost includes accommodation in the volunteer apartments shared with the rest of the team, transfers from Kefalonia airport or bus station to the project on your start and end dates, a researcher t-shirt, ongoing training and project operation costs, crockery, and cookware. The cost does not include your travel to & from the project (i.e. flights to Kefalonia), food, travel insurance or personal expenses. It is mandatory for you to take out travel insurance for the duration of your stay.

Accommodation, Travel and Requirements

Volunteer bike ride in ArgostoliAll project locations have shared apartments in beautiful locations near the nesting areas we monitor. The field stations are all situated near to one of the nesting beaches. These will be accessible when you want to swim, sunbathe, and relax during your free time. All stations are equipped with electricity, cooking facilities, and bathrooms with showers and hot water. Wi-Fi is available at the local cafes and restaurants, so you can bring a laptop or smartphone to connect to the internet if you want to stay in touch with family and friends.

To help volunteers save on food costs, we have equipped our accommodation with fridges, cooking equipment and utensils, and we help organise an (optional) food share in which all volunteers pool a predetermined amount weekly and shop at the supermarket. The food share costs approximately €20 - €30 per week and will cover breakfast, a light lunch, and dinner for most of the week. We keep the share vegetarian to make sure it is fair for all and make an effort to include alternative sources of protein in the shopping. Volunteers also regularly arrange outings to one of the local restaurants in small or larger groups, so you'll get a chance to experience the local cuisine as well.

Volunteer Requirements

  • Sea turtle swimming in Kefalonia18 years of age or older (Under 18s can join provided they fill out a parental consent form)
  • Able to commit to a minimum stay of two weeks
  • Comfortable riding a bicycle on hilly terrain
  • Able to walk/bike several hours per day in very hot weather conditions
  • Flexible, self-motivated and willing to get involved in hands-on conservation work as part of a team of international volunteers

Travel & Orientation

We recommend that volunteers travel by plane directly to Kefalonia or come via Athens, from where you can get a bus to Kefalonia. You will be met at the airport or bus station by a member of our team and will then travel to the project accommodation, where you will have the first day and evening to meet the rest of the team and settle in. 

Assos villageUpon your arrival, you will attend an orientation session where you will be introduced to the field leaders and all other researchers in your team. The orientation includes a brief presentation of the island of Kefalonia and our overall conservation work, which you will help us continue while volunteering with us. You will begin taking part in field surveys from the first morning after your arrival, initially with experienced members of your team who will give you the first in-field training. Your first three afternoons and evenings on the project will be packed with training and workshop sessions to get you acquainted with all aspects of our field work and with our supporting keys, guides, and manuals that will be available in the field. Attending this training is essential to your ability to help our research and is the main reason you must arrive at the project on your designated day of arrival.

About Kefalonia Island

Kefalonia beachKefalonia is situated off the west coast of Greece. It is the largest island of the Ionian Sea and remains sparsely populated after the devastating earthquake of 1953. The island maintains a rich biodiversity, with a substantial number of endemic and rare species. Kefalonia's majesty starts from her beaches and continues to the extreme heights of her mountains rising directly from the sea.

Unlike the eastern islands of Greece, Kefalonia is green and rich in stunning scenery, beautiful villages, and its own diversity of traditions and local products, including Robola wine, wild thyme and fir-tree honey, olive oil, feta and local cheese, pasteli, and mandoles, and the Kefalonian meat pie. Historic sites of Kefalonia span over four millennia, from ancient Mycenean settlements and tombs to recent WW2 landmarks.

Kefalonia is one ferry ride away from the beautiful islands of Ithaca, Lefkada, and Zakynthos as well as the port city of Patra on the mainland. Patra, is a large port that has connections to Ancona, Venice, Bari, and Brindisi in Italy, and to Corfu and Igoumenitsa in northern Greece, making it easy to explore other areas.

Climate

Kefalonia mapThe area has a Mediterranean climate with warm to hot summers and cool winters. The summers are dry with much of the rainfall occurring in the winter time. The hottest months are July and August with an average high of 29°C; fortunately, the sea is a great place to cool off. In winter, the average high is around 12°C with an average low of 5°C.

Some facts about Kefalonia:
Population: 35,590
Size: 781 km2
Highest elevation: 1628 m
Location: Ionian Sea, off the west coast of central Greece

About Argostoli

Argostoli is the capital town of Kefalonia, situated on the south-west coast of the island. The town's harbour borders the bay of Argostoli, which is naturally protected from the open sea by the Argostoli and Paliki peninsulas. The shallower end of the bay blends into the Koutavos Lagoon, where the warm waters become home to a number of sea turtles during the summer season, with a few turtles also spending the winter there.

About Lixouri

Kefalonia coastline

The town of Lixouri is situated on the Paliki peninsula, the western region of Kefalonia. Its south coast is lined with long south-facing beaches, among which Xi is famous for its red-tinted sand and bustling with tourists during the summer. The shallow waters between these beaches and the islet of Vardiani further south, with seaweed-covered rocky reefs scattered along the seafloor, form an ideal nesting habitat for sea turtles.

Volunteer Testimonials

Previous volunteer Josh Keedy gives his feedback on the project:

How long did you stay for?

Loggerhead sea turtle

I stayed for 4 weeks as part of a placement for my university geography course.

What projects/activities were you involved in?

  • Beach surveys - Waking up in the early hours, just before sunrise, going down to specific beaches that are constantly monitored, in nesting season these beaches would be searched in order to look out for turtle tracks and then to find the nest associated with these tracks, once a nest is found it will be marked off and protected with bamboo, red tape and a sign, the tracks would then be noted down in a notebook, a GPS co-ordinate would also be taken above the nest. Also, in hatchling season, what you would be looking for are hatchling tracks, if found, you would record the number of emergencies made and take pictures, then check if anymore hatchling are emerging and guide them to the see. The other main objective of the survey is to check on all the nests, to see if there has been any disturbances, dipping or any hatchlings. Also, GPS coordinates were taken at either end of the beach.
  • Nest inventory's - Once a nest is thought to no longer produce any more hatchlings, a team goes down to the nest to carry out an inventory. The inventory is done to gather data on the number of eggs, successful hatchlings, bacteria/fungi present and the unsuccessful attempts are recorded also. If any live hatchlings are present, a trench is dug and the hatchlings are guided to the sea.
  • Night shifts - Sleeping on various beaches, depending on where the nests with incubation periods coming to an end are, we would stay the night, often in groups of 2-4, once there each nest with a possibility of hatching had a box placed over them to prevent any hatchling going in the wrong direction and a 20m trench was dug to the sea away from any light pollution. This then involved waking up hourly (often in turns) and checking whether any hatchlings had emerged, if so a bucket with damp sand was used to transport them to the top of the trench and they would then make their own way to the sea, the number of hatchlings and times of emergence were recorded.
  • Hatchling rescue - Sometimes a nest would begin hatching during the day, which can be very dangerous as the suns midday heat can kill them. A team of us would rush down to the beach and begin cordoning off the area from tourists and locals, a trench would be built, people would begin shading the trench and the nest as hatchlings would start to make their way down the trench. Any hatchlings that are too weak to make it down the trench would be brought back with volunteers.
  • Hatchling recovery/recuperation - The weak hatchlings are placed into a temporary environment meant to represent the sea, in order to build up their swimming skills and for them to search for food on their own. You are required to watch them, so as none drown and to make sure the water temperature is regulated.
  • Hatchling re-introduction - Once strong enough the hatchlings will be re-introduced into ocean, only a few volunteers got to do this, so it is not a guaranteed activity, we kayaked out a few kilometres from the shore and released the turtles in calmer waters, if they could swim without aid then we let them go, if not we brought them back with us.
  • Turtle restraining - When an adult turtle needs to be tagged, de-leached and/or there is some sort of an emergency, one of the field leaders or co-founders would go into water to catch the turtle, guide it to a platform and volunteers would lift the turtle out into a box full of towels, the turtle then has to be restrained in order for the team to carry out these tasks especially if rope or other plastics are restricting limbs or rope can be seen coming from its cloaca. The turtles measurements will be taken and if the problem is thought to be medical then the turtle is taken back and eventually sent to the rescue centre in Athens.
  • Harbour shifts - These occur in two shifts in the morning with two groups of volunteers, it involved walking up and down a sector looking for turtle activity such as interactions and feeding habits. During this time you are also looking out for fishermen, tourists feeding the turtles fish and if there is anything abnormal with any of the turtles.
  • Beach profiling - Going down to the beach to gather data on elevation, length and width.
  • Light pollution - Measuring the light pollution in the areas around nests, that could effect the direction of turtle hatchlings once emerged.

How was the programme structured?

I arrived 2/3 days prior to the project starting and so stayed in a hotel near Argostoli, I then got a taxi to the accommodation, which was easy enough. The field leader/assistants were there to pick up any volunteers from the airport on the day they arrived. Orientation was in the evening and all the next day, explaining some basic loggerhead turtle facts and about all of the scenarios that we might encounter. 

What was the food/accommodation like?

Sleeping was a mixture of bunk beds or single beds on their own, they had mosquito net hooks which you could attach your own mosquito net onto. The main kitchen was a floor lower which had everything you could need for cooking and 2 large fridge/freezers. There is a food kitty, which if you participate in you are required to cook with 2 others for the rest of the group, normally at least once a week, the food kitty is 20 euros a week depending how many volunteers are there. I, however, preferred to cook for myself, getting my ingredients after harbour shift or when they travelled in the minibus to get the food kitty stock.

Would you recommend the programme to other volunteers?

Would highly recommend, it was an amazing experience and one of my coursemates has just booked her volunteer position for this summer!


Previous volunteer Simon Waitland gives his feedback on the project:

How long did you stay for?

Volunteer on a bike in Argostoli

I’ve volunteered on two occasions, in 2016 for two weeks in late June (nesting season), and in 2017 for four weeks in August (hatching season). Both of these stays were at the Argostoli field station.

What projects/activities were you involved in?

The activities I took part in included:

  • Harbour patrols – patrolling Argostoli harbour to monitor behaviour and interactions between the resident turtles. This was also an opportunity to talk to curious tourists, informing them of the sea turtle populations and what they can do to help.
  • Morning surveys – cycling to, and then walking along the nesting beaches at sunrise to check for turtle emergences and nest activity. If a suspected nest was found, it was excavated, and the eggs located, before marking the area off to protect it. I was fortunate enough to be the first to locate the eggs at one of the nests discovered, and was present at the finding of several others.
  • Nest relocations – (carefully) removing the eggs from unsuitable nest sites, building a new ‘nest’ at a better location, and reburying the eggs there to give them the best chance of hatching. I jumped at the chance to do this on my second day at the project, as it doesn’t happen all the time.
  • Hatchling rescue – sleeping on light polluted beaches by a hatching nest and ensuring all the hatchlings get safely to the sea. This was one of my favourite activities during the hatching season, and I saw many tens of baby turtles on these shifts.
  • Nest inventories – after a nest has hatched, we would dig it up to count the eggs, how many hatched successfully, and the state of those that did not hatch. Some of these digs revealed live hatchlings, which were released.
  • Light pollution surveys – night-time surveys of the light pollution levels at each nest on a nesting beach, to ascertain which nests needed hatchling rescue teams to help their hatchlings safely to the sea.
  • Beach profile survey – measurements of the height and width of the nesting beaches along their length, and the position of their edges and shoreline. These can change through the summer due to storms and erosion, and was used to help map the suitable nesting areas.
  • Hatchling release – Some weaker hatchlings were taken into our care and later released at sea when they were strong enough to survive. This was usually done by the field assistants on the project, but I was lucky enough to be able to join them on a kayak to release some hatchlings into the open water.
  • Data entry – All the data gathered during that day’s shifts was entered into various spreadsheets to keep an electronic record of everything the project recorded.
  • Tagging events/handling of turtles – on occasion if a new turtle is spotted in the harbour, a team will head down to the harbour to capture that turtle to tag it and perform various measurements and health check-ups before releasing it again. This often draws a crowd of curious onlookers, as this is the only time they can see a turtle out of the water. I was very lucky in being allowed to help restrain and carry an adult male turtle during one of these events. Turtles were also captured if they had ingested a fishing hook or line, and if it could not be removed at the scene were taken back to the project location to be cared for. For a few days I had two turtles in tanks just outside my room!

How was the programme structured?

Each Sunday everyone is assigned shifts for the following week – usually one or two a day with free time the rest of the time. The staff and assistants were always on hand, and were very friendly and helpful, so asking questions if I wasn’t sure about something was never an issue – they want you to enjoy the experience as much as possible. After the induction week you get one day off per week, which you can use as you wish – many volunteers did day trips around the island, went sightseeing, or just lounged by the nearby pool all day.

What was the food/accommodation like?

All volunteers took it in turns to cook for the whole group (this is one of the shifts on the rota). Meals were mostly vegetarian and adapted to the dietary requirements of the group members – for example, I am coeliac and so the food during my stay was all gluten free. A weekly food kitty contribution of €20 gave you access to three meals a day, and we could also buy food in Argostoli after harbour shifts, and at local bars/restaurants.

Accommodation was in single-sex rooms of up to 6 other volunteers, with an ensuite shower/toilet for each shared room – it is fairly basic but not uncomfortable.

Would you recommend the programme to other volunteers?

I would most definitely recommend the project to other volunteers! I loved it so much the first time that I came back the next year for a longer stay. The staff are great, the people you meet are wonderful, and you are involved with so many different activities. My advice would be to throw yourself at everything you do in your time there – the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. Seeing hatchlings swim away in the sunlight on my final morning was something I’ll never forget.

How to Join the Project

Volunteers spot a sea turtle in the harbour

If you are interested in sea turtle conservation volunteering in Greece, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including your application payment of £180, and please also email a recent photo of yourself to the volunteer coordinator at aaron@workingabroad.com. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we would reimburse your application payment fully. However, for those who are accepted, one third of the full balance amount needs to be paid within 7 days of being confirmed on the project, with the remainder to be paid two months before your arrival. If you apply with under 2 month's notice, the full payment is due in full upon confirmation. Once your place is confirmed on the programme, you will receive pre-departure information with all further details on your project, travel info, suggested items to bring and so on.

Apply Now


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