“Swimming” with dolphins and saving turtles from plastic
Article by Eurodesk UK Ambassador, Elena Toader.
Following your passion will be the most rewarding journey you can take. Joining Greenrope for their second Marine Biology Camp allowed me to do what I love: observe and learn about nature, protect endangered species and witness Earth’s spectacle of beauty.
Quite by chance I came across Greenrope. After reading about the projects they run in nature conservation and species preservation, I began following them on social media. Thus, I found out about the Marine Biology camp, which they organise in partnership with the local WWF centre.
Greenrope is an Erasmus+ member and frequent organiser of youth exchanges under EU funding. However, the Marine Biology Camp was funded through a participation fee which paid for accommodation, travel to the WWF camp, meals and the two days at sea (dolphin watching experience). Previous to paying the fee, I had to submit an application form talking about my motivation and previous experience. Being an active participant of Erasmus+ projects provided me with enough experience and skills that, I believe made my application successful.
My participation in the camp offered me the opportunity to be involved in an environmental project and also to meet the people behind Greenrope. The NGO has many volunteers but the main people behind the organisation are Stefano and Andrea. Two young men whom I found extremely passionate about making a local change. Their use of resources to put together amazing projects is inspirational.
All participants were hosted by the local WWF organisation, based in the small town of Policoro, on the southern Italian coast. The naturalness of the place transpired through its wood cabin accommodation and the tranquil autumn sea which was only a few feet away.
The centre hosts all sorts of animals, rescued or abandoned: iguanas, snakes, birds, fish, foxes etc. However, their main task is protecting sea turtles. Quite often, these are found or brought in by local fishermen. Their problem: PLASTIC. Whether in their stomach, around their flippers or neck, plastic represents a real issue for marine animals. Unable to differentiate between small fish and plastic bits, turtles (and other animals) often ingest this material causing death by starvation.
WWF staff work together to treat and rehabilitate the turtles so that later they can be placed back where they belong…in the sea. WWF also finds and protects turtle nests. So much so, that in the last week before hatching, someone sleeps next to the nest, on the beach, so that when the eggs hatch, he can guide the hatchlings into the sea.
All participants spend one day getting to know the animals around the centre and helping the WWF staff in their duties: feeding the animals and changing the water of and washing the turtle tanks. We were shown how turtles' measurements are taken and made available to an international database to help monitoring after release in wilderness.
A professor taught us about the anatomy and physiology of turtles; we explored the local, protected area on bicycle and spent two days out at sea looking for dolphins.
‘Swimming’ with dolphins
For this activity we teamed up with Ionian Dolphin Conservation (IDC) who made their research boat available for our dolphin search.
When scanning for dolphins, we were looking for black spots (dolphin fins) creating waves or jumping from the sea. Soon, dolphins were spotted. Extremely sociable creatures, they were approaching our boat and swimming with us: the waves created when going at speed, apparently reminds them of swimming with their mothers. So it was as enjoyable for them as it was for us.
IDC explained how each dolphin can be identified by the unique scaring pattern on their fins, which they gain when competing for food. By taking clear pictures of their fins, IDC created a database of individual dolphins, which anyone can access and thus track their migration behaviour.
Our time at sea ended with a ceremony: Capellone, the sea turtle WWF have been tending to, was ready to go back home. How best to end a marine biology programme?
Much like Capellone, we are our happiest, thriving self when in our own element. So, if you have a passion, dedicate time to finding resources that can help you live your passion, even if for a week.
Would you like to go on your own adventure? Find out about volunteering opportunities!