Where is ARCHELON based?
We are based in Athens, Greece. The rescue centre is in a suburb, south of Athens, called Glyfada, and we are right by the sea.
How long has the centre been running for?
The Rescue Centre started operating in 1994. It was only for a couple of turtles back then but we have grown since then and we continue to do so, which is very exciting.
And besides the rescue and rehabilitation part, the rescue centre is also open to the public and to schools, so we can educate and raise awareness.
Which species of sea turtle do you see?
In Greece we can find three different species of sea turtles: the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Leatherback (Dermochelys choriacea). Here at the rescue centre, we mainly treat sub-adult and adult loggerheads and occasionally have a couple of juvenile greens. As far as I know, about 20 years ago we had an injured Leatherback turtle being rehabbed, but since then we haven’t rescued any others from that species.
Approximately, how many cases do you see each year?
An average of about 60 to 70 sea turtles per year. Unfortunately, most of them arrive after suffering human induced head traumas, which means they usually require quite a long of time in rehabilitation.
How many patients can you care for at one given time?
Through the winter months, December until April, we can care for around 25 patients. These are housed mainly in our “Green-house”, where air and water temperatures are kept at an optimum range for the patients.
While in the summer months, from May until November, we have a lot more animals. We have an outdoor space we can use during that season, with plenty of tanks we can use, which allows us to rehab up to 40 turtles, sometimes even 45, depending on the need.
What are the most common injuries and illnesses you treat for?
Unfortunately, most of the patients have suffered head traumas, a lot of them are quite severe, which is why they require a lengthy hospitalisation, sometimes up to one year, or even longer. We also rescue sea turtles that have ingested hooks or fishing line and require surgery. During the winter months, it is more common to treat animals struggling with hypothermia and pneumonia.
How are your turtles treated at your centre?
The daily wound treatments and administration of medications are done mostly by myself and my rehab assistant. We now also have a “Rehabilitation Assistant Volunteer” who gets trained for assisting us in basic medical care as well.
We collaborate with an external veterinarian. She visits weekly and performs the surgeries, like hook removals or flipper amputations. We also connect with several other vets abroad, which help us a lot by giving us advice. It is very useful to have this kind of communication to help our turtle patients.
What facilities/equipment do you have access to?
We do radiographs on all the patients. We do not have an x-ray machine on site, so we collaborate with a human practice which is at a 5-minute drive away, and they very kindly assist us with it.
Within the rescue centre, we have a specific area we call “the surgery”, which is where we perform some advanced medical treatments and perform the surgeries with our veterinarian.
Does your centre carry out any research?
Yes, we collect samples from diseased animals and from patients just before release. Tissue samples for genetic studies and carapace samples for isotope analysis. We have also recently concluded a study in collaboration with the Hellenic Marine Research Centre, which aimed to better understand the percentage of animals that had ingested plastic, both at a macro and micro size.
We did also a study which we presented at the Mediterranean Sea Turtle Conference in 2018 about Environmental Enrichment. We now use these enrichment devices on a daily basis with the patients that are almost ready to be released. The head trauma that many of our patients endure greatly affects their balance and buoyancy, so enriching their environment can encourage them to dive and exhibit more natural behaviours. We are currently collecting more behavioural data on the benefits of using enrichment as part of the rehabilitation process.
Hopefully we will continue to find new research projects to participate in!
What are your main goals?
We mainly focus on the rehabilitation and release of our patients, but we also seek to raise awareness to their plea. We do lectures all around coastal Greece; teaching Coast Guards how to rescue and transport an animal in distress, etc.
We show the public how important it is to preserve our fauna. The community needs to stop thinking of sea turtles as competition. We are trying to change their perspective. The rescue centre is daily opened to the public, and we provide small tours around the facility. We also welcome schools visiting us. It is very important for kids to see these animals, to understand the value of each species, to create an emotional connection with them.
Besides the rescue centre, ARCHELON has field projects in different parts of Greece: Zakynthos, the Peloponnese and in Crete, which are the main nesting sites for Loggerhead sea turtles in the country. The beach projects work directly with the nesting females and is mostly run by volunteers.
What is one of your most interesting or rewarding case?
We had an adult male loggerhead, called Sotiris that arrived to ARCHELON in 2017 with a severe carapace injury. We weren’t sure if it had been due to a boat strike or deliberately induced. Sotiris was with us for one year and two months before being released back into the wild. This year, 2021, in the summer, he was spotted by a diver on an island quite far away from Athens, which left us super excited. The diver noted the shining of the metal tags we had placed on Sotiris’s front flippers and started recording him to share it with us. He looked really well, he was thriving! So this was an amazing opportunity to find out what happens after they get released and to find they are doing well, which is our whole purpose.
What is it about sea turtles that you most admire?
I admire the species. They are so resilient it is incredible. They are true warriors surviving the kind of trauma I see them being admitted with. They have been on our planet for millions of years, so I kind of feel responsible for helping them through. We need to protect these species; they have such a vital role in our environment.
The first time ever I took care of a turtle, here at the rescue centre, this incredible feeling came upon me. I have always been fascinated by them, and it continues until today.
In what ways can members of your local community help sea turtles?
You can find all the information on our website.
We have an adoption scheme, where you can sponsor a hatchling or an adult, or even a specific turtle being rehabbed at the time. We also have an e-shop where we sell ARCHELON merchandise that has several different cute and nice options to offer as gifts, or to yourself. Another option is to help through donations. And of course, we are always welcoming new volunteers to work with us! Either by volunteering at our rescue centre or in any of our beach projects around Greece.
Thank you to Eirini and ARCHELON for this insightful and engaging interview.