Heroes in a Half Shell

with Richard Hammond

sunset just as they hatch

PHOTOGRAPHER RICHARD HAMMOND AND HIS WIFE CERI JOURNEYED TO THE GREEK ISLAND OF KEFALONIA IN AUGUST WHERE THEY WITNESSED THE HATCHING OF THE LOGGERHEAD TURTLES. HE SHARES HIS EXPERIENCE HERE…

almost there

It’s been a long hot day on our Greek holiday, the temperatures just dropping to 25 degrees, and we are now sitting on a near deserted beach relaxing with a cocktail, watching the sun slowly sink into the beautiful turquoise sea. Suddenly there’s a rustling behind us in the sand, we look around but no-one is there, we must have imagined it. Back to the cocktails, but no, there it is again something is moving in the sand.

Is it a lizard…perhaps a snake? we’d better move, no wait it’s a head, there’s a head coming out of the sand and another and another, we’re about to witness the amazing sight of a mass hatching of turtles at sunset. I’m on the beautiful Island of Kefalonia and this is my holiday adventure.

Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands in western Greece and is a three-hour plane journey from the UK. This is not a Greek party island but a tranquil destination. It’s also home to the wonderful Loggerhead Turtles who come ashore at night in early summer and heave themselves up the beach to lay their eggs in a hole they dig (the nest). They cover the eggs (up to 120) with warm sand and hope that two months later they will hatch.

Most nests are cordoned off with tape by the volunteers of Wildlife Sense who are a sea turtle research and conservation organization based on the Island. The group are made up of residents (many are ex-pats), students and young people who come in their summer holidays to help. They are easily recognizable in their blue T shirts, with clip boards and excited smiles. Anyone can volunteer and if you would like more information go to https://wildlifesense.com/en/

So back to our hatching; after a lull of ten minutes with just a few heads poking out of the sand a group of us have gathered around to watch and are wondering why they’ve stopped moving. “Should we move the top one?” I ask, in case he’s blocking the ones underneath. “No”, I’m told by an Italian lady who has witnessed this before, and whose husband has started to make a shallow trench in the sand from the nest towards the sea. “Don’t worry” she says “they will all come out shortly”. Another five minutes goes by, and still nothing, surely, we should help them? My wife says “wait”. Then suddenly the nest explodes into life as around 70 baby turtles burst out and head off in all directions, looking for freedom.

We gently direct the turtles into the trench and will them forwards towards the sea. Some go the wrong way, others are nearly trodden on by the Italian lady’s young daughter who is shrieking with delight and some are powering forward to the waves.

We see the blue T shirts of the turtle volunteers approach from the end of the beach. “Thank good-ness,” I think.“Go on boy, get into the sea,” I whisper as the turtles heroically edge closer to the water, with an amazing sunset as a backdrop. “Keep going turtles, don’t stop”. Finally, the first makes it into the sea then a wave sweeps him back on the sand. Undeterred he tries again and again until he’s off and swimming like a … well like a baby turtle. Our number has swollen to eight with the arrival of the volunteers who make sure that every one of the hatchlings makes it safely into the water.

Totally stressed out but euphoric we walk up the beach to the bar and order another cocktail. What an hour it has been. We compare photographs and observations and look out to sea wondering if our babies are okay, happy that we’ve done our best.

The next morning, we visit the port in Argostoli where adult turtles come every morning to feed from the scraps that the fishermen discard from their colourful boats. What graceful creatures they are gliding through the water. What a beautiful Island this is. What a Greek adventure. I look at my wife and vow to return. I hope that you enjoy a “turtle power” adventure of your own some day.

 

 

 

 

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