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CCU marine biology students volunteer in Greece

by Prufer

When junior Victoria McFarland learned about a program in Greece in need of volunteers to help rescued and injured sea turtles, she jumped at the opportunity.

Undaunted by the complexities involved – international application forms, airfare to Greece and back, primitive (by American standards) accommodations – the Coastal Carolina University marine biology student made the trip on her own. She spent three hot summer months cleaning large turtle tanks, feeding turtles and returning them to the Mediterranean Sea. And she had the time of her life. (Go down to the turtle video.)

The official name of the program is Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, a nongovernmental agency operated during the turtle-nesting season from May to September by dozens of volunteers, mostly students from all over the world interested in doing volunteer work connected to their field of study.

Another marine science student from CCU, Corey Nevels, also volunteered for Archelon and arrived in Greece a few weeks after McFarland; they found out about the opportunity from Dan Abel, a CCU marine science professor who learned about the program during a Semester at Sea trip.

McFarland applied for the program on a whim, not expecting to get accepted. When she did, she worked as a waitress over the holiday break to raise money for airfare to Greece and back home. She credited her successful summer adventure to a “well-traveled family and parents who are supportive, but value independence.”

From May to July, she worked at a sea turtle hospital in Glyfada, a costal town south of Athens, picking up injured turtles as they were reported, cleaning and treating them, and releasing them back into their environment.

“It was a lot of manual labor, and it was very hot,” said McFarland, who is from Dalton, Ga. Challenges she faced included the heat, which topped 105 degrees with no air conditioning, cultural differences, language barriers (though most people spoke some English) and initial lack of training.

“They pretty much said, ‘There it is, go do it,’ so you learned by doing, which was both hard and rewarding,” said McFarland, who plans to go into the field of veterinarian rehabilitation.

Nevels, a transfer student from Ohio University, said her group protected about 1,200 nests during the summer nesting season.

“I’ve been landlocked my whole life,” said the Ohioan. “So it’s funny I wind up loving the water and animals.”

There were two programs at Archelon – the rescue and rehabilitation program that McFarland worked on, and the nesting project in which Nevels was involved in for about five weeks on Kyparissia Beach on the Ionian Sea, protecting nearly 1,200 turtles’ nests.

In McFarland’s program, the students lived in converted train cars and slept in sleeping bags. They worked most of their time, with some time off for sightseeing. Nevels’ group lived in tents from mid-June to Aug. 11. “You definitely get out of your comfort zone,” she said.

During the last two weeks of their trip, the girls worked together at a facility in the Amvrakikos Bay, tagging and creating a population database for the turtles. Then they took a weeklong sightseeing trip together to Santorini, Greece.

In a video produced by Archelon and released by the U.S. Embassy Athens, McFarland and Nevels were praised for their international work.

“Volunteering at Archelon is important because there aren't many people advocating for these turtles, so having volunteers here for a nonprofit organization helps them not have to worry about money,” said McFarland in the video. “They need people who are passionate about getting these animals released back into the wild.”

McFarland is already applying for summer 2016 internships on the coast of California rescuing and rehabilitating pinnipeds (seals and sea lions). “It will be similar work to what I did in Greece with the turtles, but this time it will be with mammals, and more along the lines of what I am hoping to do after I graduate,” she said.

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