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Operation: Protect the Nest

While living on the Greek island of Crete, Mackenzie Moran enjoyed a summer working for a conservation group aimed at monitoring and protecting Loggerhead sea turtle nests.

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Words & Photos by Mackenzie Moran

As the sun rose over the Aegean Sea, I knew it was time to look for Loggerhead sea turtle nests. Soon, the endangered hatchlings would struggle their way to the water’s edge — and it was my job to protect them.

During the summer of 2015, I spent two months as a volunteer for Archelon: the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, a small non-governmental organization that monitors and protects the endangered Loggerhead sea turtle and its nesting beaches. The project was located in the tourist-heavy city of Rethymno on the island of Crete.

Before my trip, Greek was just a jumble of symbols I had been taught in my physics class. After walking up and down a main road for hours, I finally found the Archelon base camp. I wandered into a makeshift kitchen hidden under a collection of tarps and bamboo trees, sat down and released all of my pent-up nervous energy. Everything about the camp’s “Whoville”-like aesthetic and misshapen kitchen felt comfortable. Despite my inability to speak anything but English and my overall lack of awareness about Greek culture, I slid into the dirty, environmentalist lifestyle with ease.

The odds are stacked against the offspring of the already endangered Loggerhead species, which is what made the work we did so important. Volunteers did everything as a team, despite our different cultural backgrounds. Physically protecting every single nest on our beach was a key component of our operation.

Working with sea turtles taught me more about the fragility of life. Out of the 200 nests we found from May to August, each had anywhere from 80 to 100 eggs, sometimes more. After eight weeks of incubation in the sand, if the nest saw no disturbances, about 70 percent of those eggs would successfully hatch. The hatchlings would then crawl their way to sea, where only one in a thousand of the babies that survived the struggle would make it to adulthood.


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