The Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Glyfada Athens is run by Archelon, which is the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece. It was the first rescue centre Archelon launched and the first Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in the Mediterranean.
Sick and injured sea turtles from all over Greece go there for care and rehabilitation before being returned to the sea. And you can go and see them.
About the Sea Turtle Centre
Archelon (which is the name of a now-extinct breed of sea turtle) is completely independent of local authorities and other state agencies. That makes their implementation of projects speedy and impartial, and they’re always based on what’s best for the turtles.
Funding comes from visitors to the centre and donations from other charitable organisations. The team does have some specialists, like vets but much of it is made up of volunteers. I was shown round by a British seasonal volunteer in his third year at the Glyfada centre.
Why The Centre Rescues Turtles
Most of the casualties on this visit were loggerhead sea turtles, with just a few green turtles. Generally, they were there because of one of the following:
- receiving an intentional head injury from a human trying to kill them (because they’re incorrectly blamed for reduced fishing catches)
- hook and/or plastic ingestion, lots come in having swallowed fishing hooks which the team either flush out or operates to remove
- getting ill with lung infections/pneumonia
Some of the turtles stay at the centre for a long time (years) depending on the severity of their injuries. The hard, outer part of their shells don’t grow back. But the tissue parts do. So, in time, they can heal and be returned to their natural environment.
There’s a green sea turtle in the closest half of the tank, which I did see but didn’t photograph. The other is a loggerhead
You can pop in for a free visit at limited times during the week. As well as raising public awareness through tours and activities for Greek school children, the centre also offers longer, paid visits.
Short Free Visit
You can visit the Archelon Rescue Centre at the times below without an appointment. Your free admission includes a 15-minute tour.
X-ray of a turtle with healthy lungs and not on the right. There’s also a hook but you can’t see it here
I first visited about a year ago while I was waiting to move into my Athens flat. I stayed at a place in the countryside near Athens Airport and saw a couple of dead tortoises with smashed-up shells on the side of the road.
They’d obviously been hit by cars, and I knew you’re supposed to report any injured or dead turtles to the port police or wild animal organisation. I didn’t know if it was the same for tortoises so I went to ask. They said not, but they had a volunteer show me around on this short tour, and I really enjoyed it.
Monday – Friday 13.00 – 15.00
Saturday – Sunday from 11:00 to 17:00
It’s a good introduction to the conservation of sea turtles and an overview of the operation of the rescue centre. You’ll get to peek into some of the tanks and understand more about the lives and habits of the sea turtles in their natural habitat.
As well as green and loggerhead species of sea turtles, the team will tell you a bit about the leatherback turtle. It’s a bigger turtle which is also found in the Mediterranean. You won’t come across that in coastal areas, though. Just as well, they’re beasts that grow longer than me!
Sick sea turtles in the greenhouse cared for by a small team of volunteers and qualified staff (sorry about the glare from the glass)
Archelon’s Sea Turtle Rescue Tour
This is a longer, 45-minute tour I went back and did recently. I just went on my own, but you can book up to eight people at once, so it’s great for families or if you want to go as a group of friends. When I visited, it cost 50 euro which covers one turtle’s costs for 10 days.
Injured turtles sometimes need weights stuck to them temporarily to balance their bodies so they can dive and swim
I’m glad I did this one. Turns out, I had loads of questions about sea turtles. Who knew?! Anyway, they’re quite fascinating little creatures.
Twenty years after they’re born, when they’re ready to mate, they always return to the beach where they hatched. They have the same type of internal GPS system that whales and migrating birds have.
In the longer tour, a volunteer will show you a couple of videos as well. One is rehabilitated turtles from Glyfada Archelon being returned to the sea. It brought a tear to my eye, that one. (Maybe I was feeling a little emotional because I’d just been to see my rescue kittens from Milos off to their new home!)
I felt sad seeing them swim off on their own but apparently, turtles are solitary so it’s ok.
If you want to go along for the rescue tour it’s really easy to book a time online.
Fishing line, plastic and hooks recovered from turtles in Athens
Sea Turtle Rescue Centre Athens Address
The Archelon Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Glyfada is at the following address:
3rd Μarina of Glyfada
The nearest tram stop is Palaio Dimarchio, and there’s lots of free parking beside Asteria Beach.
Follow the turtles to Archelon’s Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Athens
Other Sea Turtle Conservation Projects In Greece
Archelon is involved with the protection of sea turtles in several other areas of Greece. These include:
- three areas of the Peloponnese
- three areas of Crete
- Laganas Bay on the island of Zakynthos
- Amvrakikos Gulf a Natura 2000 protected area of the Ionian Sea
Although these places aren’t all open to the public, Archelon does offer Sea Turtle Beach Walks. They take place on three sandy beaches:
- Rethymno Beach in Crete
- Lakonikos Bay, south of Sparta in the Peloponnese and
- Agiannakis Environmental Station at Kyparissia Bay also in the Peloponnese about an hour south of Ancient Olympia
You can join these for a donation to cover the cost of a hatchling.
What to Do If You See a Turtle That Needs Help
Naxos Wildlife Protection is part of the Archeon rescue network, and it was a recent Instagram post of theirs that prompted me to go back for another visit. Some loggerhead turtle hatchlings had been reported on Plaka Beach, and they went to cordon off the sea turtle nests.
If you see signs of turtle nesting areas you should report it. (You’ll understand the markings from one of the videos on the tour).
If there are sufficient human resources to get to nesting beaches, then it’s good for someone to go along and protect the nests. Turtle eggs and young hatchlings are vulnerable to human activities as well as other animals.
Conservation efforts include protecting the nests from dogs digging in the sand and encouraging local inhabitants to reduce light in the area. Turtles head to the sea by the light of the moon on the water. Light pollution in the beach area can cause the newly hatched turtles to head off in the wrong direction.
Turtles from the nesting area in Naxos
If you see a turtle you think is hurt or sick, call the centre. They’ll work with you to assess the situation and decide what to do next.
Sometimes the turtles come to the surface to sunbathe. If you get anywhere near and they’re healthy, they’ll head off back into the water. Generally, if they stay on the surface or have been washed up on the beach, they’re not doing well.
Because that could be anywhere in the country, Archelon works with the port police to have injured and ill turtles transported to Athens. The ferry and bus companies work together with Archelon to transport the creatures.
A model nest at the centre
Other Things to Do in Glyfada
Before and/or after your trip to see the turtles you can stay around the area. Some of the popular attractions in Glyfada are:
- Glyfada Beach
- shopping in central Glyfada
- the hiking trails around the southern suburb
- brunch or a delicious dinner at Golf Prive’s Colonial restaurant within Glyfada Golf (I don’t think the golf itself is up to much)
More Information About Athens
Sticking with the water theme, I went scuba diving in Athens, just a bit beyond Glyfada at Vouliagmeni. You can also go on a catamaran tour if you’d prefer to enjoy the coast that way.
If you want to see more Greek animals, visit Donkeysland at Korpoi, close to Athens Airport. Talking of the airport, here are some things to do near Athens International if you’re heading back with time to kill.
Moving towards the city, here are some ideas for what to do in Athens at night to maximise your visit. And if you just need general Greek travel advice, then this post about the best apps for Greek travel might be useful.
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