It is late September, the weather is still warm and we arranged to spend our afternoon in Mounda beach to meet the volunteers of Katelios Group. The long sandy beach in the south of Kefalonia is one of the most important nesting sites for the Caretta caretta turtle on the island while the Katelios Group for the Research and Protection of Marine and Terrestrial Life is her guardian for more than 20 years.
We arrived at the beach earlier from our appointment. The kids enjoyed playing with the waves, while we were wondering if we will actually see hatchlings as Mrs. Katerina told us on the phone a few days before, and how she could be so sure! When it comes to wildlife you usually can’t arrange an appointment with it! As soon as the small group of volunteers arrived at the beach they solved all of our questions. This time of year most of the eggs have hatched and most hatchlings have come out of their nests and are already at sea. The volunteers open the nests to do their established check and help any trapped hatchlings to get out. So today we’ll check with them two nests!
We started walking towards the nests full of excitement. Along the way we had the opportunity to discuss in more detail about the efforts made all these years by the center and all that they have accomplished. The protection and monitoring of the beach, the creation of an environmental center for public information, the important contribution to the integration of Katelios Bay into the European Habitats Network (NATURA 2000) are some of the actions that the small club can be proud of.
Our conversation stopped as we reach the first nest. The volunteers wore their gloves and started digging carefully. In the mean while they explained the marks they had set up to find the nest again after 60-80 days of hatching and after a few moments of digging they reached the first eggs! Slowly, all the eggs are taken out and placed next to the nest where they were counted and documented. Overall 70 hatched and 3 unhatched were found. The eggs remains were placed back in the nest and the hole was covered with sand.
We continued on to the second nest following the same procedure. This time we were lucky. Not only one but five hatchlings were alive! We removed them from the nest one by one and made a path in the sand to help them reach the sea easier as the distance was quite big. Totally excited, children and adults watched the effort of the baby turtles reach the water. The journey of their lives had just begun! Some were moving slowly; one was fast and overtook those in front of it, while another was having difficulty because its front flipper was not weak. The volunteers decided to take it with them, take care of it for a few days until it became strong and then release it at sea.
As we watched the turtles, the volunteers realized that a quad bike was crossing the beach and was coming towards us. We begun to make signals to the driver from afar, but without even slowing his speed, he passed on the corridor we had made. Such bad events often happen as they told us, and they immediately called the port police. The driver returned to the spot and this time stopped, so we inform him that motorized vehicles are not allowed to cross the beach. He responded that he didn’t know it as there is no sign, apologized and left. Although the beach is protected by international laws, the municipality responsible for putting up the signs neglected it, despite the club's requests.
Of course on the way back, the discussion focused on all the difficulties the club faces. The active members are very few but have large reserves of power and with the help of a few friends and volunteers continue their valuable work. Some accuse them of being against the development of the area – the centre has actively protected the beach from illegal buildings, from motorized vehicles crossing the beach, hotel's lights must not distract the turtles etc -. Also accuse them that they discredit the area when they report serious environmental violations such as uncontrolled sewage disposal - it is preferable to hide it under the rug or to pretend problems don’t exist - . As for support from local authorities, it is just non-existent. Furthermore, 4 years ago they had to move out from the building they rented for the information center-museum and still haven’t found a suitable place. Before leaving Katelios we passed from the house of Mrs. Katerina where all the exhibits of the center have temporarily been transferred. All the fossils, shells, information material etc remain stacked until the appropriate space is found again for the exhibition.
We said goodbye with mixed emotions and with the promise to meet again. The passion and the courage of these people can only move and inspire us, and for sure we'll help them in every way to continue their valuable effort.