Back in 2013, I was to move from Belgium to England and between the end of one contract and the beginning of the other, I allowed myself to fulfil a childhood dream: work on a turtle protection program!
I booked my tickets to Greece and worked with an NGO called ARCHELON, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece for 1 month. What I hadn't realised was how endangered the loggerhead sea turtles, also known as Caretta Caretta, really were. Those animals have been there way before Humans on Planet Earth. They are such magnificent, strong and fascinating animals but are extremely fragile when it comes to their survival.
The work would typically start at 6:00 am (so yes earlier wake up at 5:30!) when I would drive ~ 10 volunteers like me on a beach sector to start identifying new nests where turtles would have laid eggs during the night.
A beach sector is about 3 km long and you learn a few things very quickly.
You learn how to identify turtle tracks, how to identify if that turtle has dug a nest or has just returned to sea, and how to dig gently to make sure there are eggs (sometimes they dig but don't lay eggs if they are disturbed, they are very shy animals).
You learn how to protect a nest from birds, stray dogs and foxes and how to take the GPS location and mark the nest in an inventory that is then used by local, national and EU authorities to make sure the beach is classified and protected.
You learn how to relocate a nest if it's too close to the sea and may be washed away by the tide.
During night shifts, you learn about prevention, talk to tourists to explain they are in the high nesting season and what to do: red lights rather than white as the turtles can't see red light, observe from a distance... and what they can't do: come close when the turtle is walking - they are massive but afraid of humans so they would return to sea and not lay - have firecamps, the white light scares the turtles, not leave waste on the beach as many turtles end up eating rubbish and die suffocating :-(
And mostly, you learn that from a nest of ~100 eggs, not that many hatch nor have the babies making it to the sea because of natural factors such as the heat, dogs and seagulls. The other sad factor is not being able to reach the sea because they walk towards beach bar lights rather than the moonlight over the sea... a nice human touch. Let alone getting stuck in pile of rubbish.
When you know that not 10 baby turtles will make it through to their first year at sea, this is a bit sad.
But when you then visit the Rescue Center in Athens and see the extent of the work those guys are doing, this is a really really sad picture despite all the hard work of the volunteers.
While I was at the Rescue Center, one particular turtle broke my heart. Around noon, the Center received a phone call about a turtle that had been found tangled in fishing nets and seemed to have issues breathing. The turtle was going to be transported to Athens for help.
A few hours later, we went to pick her up at the bus station. She was in a critical state. After transporting her to the Rescue Center, we needed to act fast to untangle her and.... remove plastics from her nose.
She was given painkillers immediately and the work of the vets could start. The amount of suffering was very unpleasant to watch. After a few moments, her airways were free again. But, we couldn't say the same about her front left flipper. It has been so badly trapped in the fishnet that it had cut though the flipper and she needed immediate amputation or the infection would propagate.
My role at this point was to help hold her, one 100kg animal full of suffering so that Paolo could save her life.
I am unsure how to describe what I felt, but mostly, it was repulsion. Not about the flesh, blood and amputation process but about seeing the impact we have on peaceful, majestic animals by with all our waste that we generate without realising how much pain we are causing.
So maybe Maya's Refillables has not started in 2013, but this picture never left my mind.
As we have become more aware of these problems and are now more ready and open to solutions to reduce our footprint, it is time for Maya's Refillables to really start providing alternatives.
There is no pretension in saving the world with a magic wand, but we, at Maya's Refillables want to provide means affordable to many households to gradually stop producing more rubbish and live all together, humans and animals in a better, more sustainable place!
See you soon!
Maya helping the vet taking care of an injured sea turtle in Athen's Archelon rescue center