Turtle conservation vacations in the Peloponnese

Seeing sea turtles in Greece is a near-mystical calculation of weather, moon, tides and seasons. Sometimes there are more nests on Greek Islands like Zakynthos; on other years, sea turtles lay more nests in the Peloponnese. The whims of the outside world add to the sense of chance – warming waters, boat collisions, plastic pollution and hotel construction on the beaches that sea turtles traditionally nest on.

“Nesting turtle populations are hard to predict, even by the experts,” says Chantel Kyriakopoulou-Beuvink, the owner of our turtle conservation vacation specialists Natural Greece. “There’s always fluctuation in the number of nests and where they appear.”

When you go on a turtle conservation vacation, you can rest assured that you will be directed to the turtle nesting sites most in need of your help. You’ll know that you’ll be supporting a positive form of tourism and make a real difference to the lives of loggerhead turtles in Greece, while learning about their lives and (quite frankly, beautiful) habitat along the way.

Our top Peloponnese Vacation

Peloponnese turtle conservation holiday, Greece

Peloponnese turtle conservation vacation, Greece

Sea turtle volunteering on stunning Greek beaches

From 850 9 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2021: 17 Jul, 31 Jul
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Peloponnese or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

At loggerheads

Loggerheads – or the caretta caretta – are metre-long Mediterranean turtles christened for their oversized heads topped with powerful crab-crunching jaws. For a long time, they’ve been held aloft as a symbol of the Greek seas; these days, they’re considered vulnerable or endangered.
Loggerhead turtles are creatures that like to do things to extremes. Like many turtles species, only one out of 1,000 turtles struggles to adulthood – but when they do, they can live for 100 years. Amazingly, female sea turtles always return to the beach where they were born to lay their own clutch of eggs – even if a hotel has slapped down sunloungers and beach clubs on the sands while they were away at sea. Bright artificial lights are especially deadly; baby turtles are drawn to the sea because it’s lighter than land, so beach lights tempt them in the opposite direction, towards busy resorts and coast roads.
Luckily, loggerhead turtles have some equally heavyweight champions behind them. Archelon, Greece’s top sea turtle protection NGO, has a base in the Peloponnese. They’re pros at lobbying against hotels illegally built on turtle beaches, make sure that resorts stick to habitat protection guidelines, and teach tour captains and guides how to watch turtles respectfully.

What are turtle conservation vacations in the Peloponnese like?

The best volunteering vacations work with organisations like Archelon to identify the most important turtle nesting beaches – and then put willing volunteers to work on them. It’s a hard ask: the Peloponnese, just south-west of Athens, is home to some of the loveliest sandy bays and fishing villages in mainland Greece.

Archelon bases itself in Gythio Bay, one of the most important turtle nesting sites in Greece. Vacation companies like our wildlife tour specialists Natural Greece work directly with them. “Together, we made a proposal for turtle volunteering vacations in the Peloponnese,” says Chantel.
We do everything on this trip with a lot of respect for the turtles. This is not true for all turtle experiences in this country.
You’ll work with conservation organisations and local communities – but ultimately, your work will be done to the turtles’ schedule. “Archelon will determine what we can or cannot do, and when we go,” says Chantel. “We do everything on this trip with a lot of respect for the turtles. This is not true for all turtle experiences in this country.”
Vacations only run when the turtles are most in need of a helping hand, so during nesting season (May-August) and hatching season (July-October). Go between May and August, and you might see a loggerhead built like a bag of bricks heaving itself onto the beach or using its powerful back flippers to carve out a nest. These sea turtles only give birth every 2-4 years, so each nest is like a treasure trove.
That’s where you step in – the turtles need guards to look after buried eggs that incubate for about six weeks on their own. You’ll help mark out and watch the 120-egg nests that lie only about 60cm below the surface of the sand. And you’ll help rebuild them if they’re disturbed by beach users or animals.

Turtles tend to nest and hatch at night or dawn to avoid the heat and eagle-eyed gulls. Some volunteers will get a chance to go on night patrol, using infra-red lights to spot tiny baby turtles. “I’ve been on a night patrol,” says Chantel. “It’s exciting. If you’re lucky, you see turtles coming out of their eggs… You have to remove obstacles, because they have to go to the sea and they have to do it themselves. If needed, you support them.”

Some of those obstacles are sunloungers, plastic bags or bonfires; other obstacles are people. You’ll get the chance to chat with beachgoers and educate them – and get them excited – about the turtles that share the beach. In fact, engaging beach users is one of the most effective methods of long-term conservation. “Everything you do as a volunteer can contain surprises,” says Chantel. “It could be that you don’t see much one morning or you can see something that you never expected.”
Everything you do as a volunteer can contain surprises.
Dimitra Christidi is a conservationist and guide at Natural Greece. “Every time you see wildlife in its natural habitat it’s an amazing experience,” she says. “But in the Peloponnese, I think it’s almost more so, because you get to see the actual time when the eggs hatch, or when the turtles lay their eggs, or when they’re in the middle of giving birth – right in front of you. It’s always an amazing experience to be in front of the baby turtles when they hatch out of their eggs and they try to make their way to sea, finding their way.”

That first journey is their most important. Female loggerhead turtles rely on the memories formed on that original journey to return to the beach where they were born when they’re ready to give birth. Under the guidance of a conservationist, you’ll keep an eye on the health and progress of baby turtles and relocate them if needed. You’ll also collect research data on numbers and locations.

As with all wildlife vacations, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see a wild turtle – but here in the Peloponnese, you’d be in the minority if you didn’t. As back-up, most vacations give you the chance to visit Europe’s biggest sea turtle rescue center on the Athenian Riviera.

“It’s not a base to please the tourists,” says Chantel. “When you go to the rescue center you have to be quiet, because here there are very stressed animals and some very bad injuries. Sometimes they have to be here for years. We only allow eight people per tour at the rescue center.”
Volunteers start as strangers and become friends.
Another unexpected surprise is the camaraderie that you’ll find while volunteering with sea turtles in Greece. “The really nice thing about this vacation is that you get to meet with likeminded people,” says Dimitra. “The volunteers there share the same passion about the turtles and wildlife... They’re from a variety of ages and backgrounds.”

Chantel agrees: “We have great vibes every time they go. Volunteers start as strangers and become friends. They still have Facebook groups; people meet each other after the trip.”

Tips from our travelers

“The highlight was rescuing some hatchling turtles, which had been confused by the lights of the adjacent campsite when they emerged from their nest on the beach, and encouraging them to go the right way towards the sea. Two hours after the “turtle emergency” was declared, all but a handful of the escapees had successfully flapped their way to the water, and were taking their first swims. Between the volunteers and the interested and helpful campers of all ages, we probably rescued about 50-60 turtles. Bring a dependable alarm clock, as the starts are early. Bring a mask and snorkel for swimming, especially at Valtaki Beach.” - Louise Shaw

“Try everything once. My group didn’t know about night patrol for the first few nights and when we tried it, it was great. Same with collecting bamboo – it’s all part of the experience, so try everything once even if you don’t think you will like it.” - Isabella Tully

Practicalities

You’ll fly into Athens and spend a night on the Athenian Riviera, before driving 290km to the sandy southern edge of the Peloponnese. Longer volunteering vacations are more successful than quick trips, so most last around nine days. You’ll get to know the team better, learn more, and have a higher chance of seeing turtles. Even that probably won’t feel like long enough, though – lots of volunteers fall for the turtles and can’t resist coming back to check up on them. Most are small group vacations that include activities, accommodation, a tour leader, breakfasts and dinners, airport transfers, and a donation to a sea turtle protection society like Archelon. Greek turtle volunteering programmes run between May and November. There are pros and cons to volunteering in the peak nesting season of July and August. You’ll probably see more nests and hatching eggs, but you’ll also be working in hot weather on a busier beach.
You’ll usually spend 3-4 hours a day volunteering, so there’ll be plenty of time to rest and explore. Turtle volunteering – particularly in Greece – is very family-friendly, welcoming children from eight upwards. It’s safe, no experience is required, there are easy rules, and nesting season tends to match up with the school vacations. Plus, you’ll be inspiring the next generation. We only work with volunteering companies that avoid captive breeding facilities, hatcheries and tank tourism. Here’s why we don’t support sea turtle hatcheries. Pack long-sleeved tops to deter mosquitoes after dusk, a sun hat, reef-safe sun cream, and swap flip flops for light hiking boots or sturdy walking sandals. You’ll be surprised by how far you might walk on patrols.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Natural Greece] [Loggerhead: Wexor Tmg] [What are the vacations like?: Natural Greece] [Baby turtle: Julia Costescu for Archelon] [Volunteers at sunset: Natural Greece]
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