Written by Lorraine Aldridge
The Glyfada ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre has been operating in Greece since 1994, thanks to support from the Municipality of Glyfada and the Ministry of the Environment. It was one of the first Sea Turtle Rescue Centres in the Mediterranean and continues to be the only one in Greece. I was lucky enough to be part of the full-time volunteer team at the centre for the duration of October 2019 and helped to rehabilitate these amazing marine creatures.
My passion for all things marine started at a very young age. After watching Finding Nemo and subsequently being inspired to adopt a sea turtle in a Nat Geo Magazine. Luckily as I was growing up my parents fully supported my interests and we travelled all around the UK to visit different aquariums that homed sea turtles. Since then I have never looked back!
With my dream still very much alive after leaving school, I went on to begin studying Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology at the University of Plymouth in 2017. After two great years of studying what I loved, in 2019 I embarked on a placement year that would allow me to travel and work within Sea turtle conservation in Grenada and the Rescue Centre in Greece.
The Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Glyfada relies on the work of volunteers to help rehabilitate sea turtles that are found injured on and around the beaches of Greece. Volunteers stay there for at least 4 weeks and are supported by part-time volunteers from Athens. Duties for volunteers include includes preparing fish, feeding, tube feeding, public awareness shifts, cleaning and scrubbing tanks and turtles, treatment and much more.
On average around seventy injured turtles arrive at the centre each year, most of which are normally loggerheads although there are also the occasional green turtle as well. A lot of people ask the question ‘How long do they stay there?’, but it is very dependant on the individual turtle and its injuries, there is no real set time. Some stay for a few weeks, months, and others a few years. However only 60% of these turtles that arrive each year make it to being released back into the wild, after being kept in sea-water tanks and receiving daily treatment to heal their injuries or illness.
We had around 28 turtles at the centre during my time there and most of them had sustained similar head injuries. It was a surprise to me to find out that not one of them were from boat propellers, but all from fishermen taking axes or hammers to their heads.
A lot of the turtles that are injured have been accidently caught in nets or swallowed fishing hooks, however a significant number of them have further injuries by deliberately being hit by fishermen who have accidently caught them. The main reasons for this behaviour is anger for gear damage, antagonism (because of dwindling fish stocks), to keep turtles away from their fishing areas and also superstition that turtles will bring them “bad luck”. Which is a really sad thought, that these injuries are so unnecessary, however the public awareness work by ARCHELON aims to increase awareness of these issues.
Compared to birds and mammals, healing is very slow in reptiles, shell damage can take years to fully heal and will never look the same again. At the centre we applied an unusual medicine to injuries to help with the healing process, honey.
Honey has been proven to be a topical antimicrobial treatment which reduces swelling and acts as an antiseptic. Honey has remarkable antibacterial properties that, when applied topically, help their wounds heal with a much lower risk of infection.
Every three days the turtles are taken out of their tanks briefly to clean both tank and turtle, as well as carry out necessary treatments. Many other treatments were used for a range of injuries but for those that require honey treatment, the honey is applied to the wound and left to set whilst the tank is being cleaned and before returning a turtle into the water.
Honey forms a protective layer to keep the wound moist and prevents contamination from reaching the tissue, it also has a high osmolarity and destroys bacteria, this means it will draw moisture from bacteria that comes into contact with the viscous honey and therefore kill the bacteria. Another factor that helps with this is the acidic and low pH of the honey which stops bacteria from being able to function.
Other than killing the bacteria the honey can also assist with the healing of the tissue. As stated by the college of veterinary Medicine Illinois “Honey can attract macrophages, a type of white blood cell important for normal healing of tissue, honey’s high osmolarity can also decrease swelling, in the surrounding tissue, just as it pulls the water from bacteria.” Those macrophages arrive on injured tissue and remove dead tissue and foreign microorganisms to allow quicker healing.
During my time at the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre I learned so much and met lots of inspiring and caring people. It was very interesting to learn each individual turtle’s personalities and how to treat certain injuries, however the highlight of my time there was being lucky enough to take part in releasing the turtles I had cared for back into their natural habitat. It was a very emotional and rewarding moment, something I’ve dreamed of for a very long time.
It was a tiring month working at the centre and it was hard to see some of the injuries the turtles had sustained as a result of human activities, but it has motivated me more than ever to continue to work towards helping these amazing sea creatures and spreading public awareness.
Lorraine is currently studying Marine Biology & Coastal Ecology at the University of Plymouth. As an aspiring sea turtle biologist, she is highly enthusiastic about conservation and marine life. She is keen to pursue a career in Marine Education and Outreach, allowing her to develop understanding of the marine world while educating others about the importance of its conservation. You can find her on LinkedIn here. To find out more about ARCHELON and volunteering at the rescue centre you can click here.
If you have an ocean story to tell then Marine Madness is here to help you tell it. If you would like to contribute check out the submission guidelines here.