23 October 2009
The Ionian Dolphin Project, a long-term research and conservation programme conducted by Tethys in the eastern Ionian Sea, has recently completed a report of the activities done in the context of its three study areas in Greece: Gulf of Amvrakikos, Gulf of Corinth and Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago.
The online version of the report can be viewed at the link below:
(also see pages of the Menu)
09 October 2009
I loved this experience! Joan and Zsuzsanna were awesome. They were patient and increased my understanding of dolphins and the impact of overfishing. At the end of the project I had a much better understanding of how field research in marine biology is done. I now feel I can make better consumer choices on which fish to buy that are not a burden on the environment. I can also educate my friends and family on what I learned at the Dolphins of Greece expedition about overfishing, so they too can make wiser consumer choices. Overall this trip was very informative but most of all a lot of fun. I had a great time with the other volunteers on the boat, cooking, cropping and matching dolphin photos. I leave with great memories!
Images of Vonitsa
calm, glassy seas,
a juvenile leaps!
Then, rides the bow... Wow!
Learn to shout out
“dolphin out at 2 o’clock at 50 meters”
when all you can blurt,
“my god, that’s a dolphin...right there”
The castle lit at night,
laughter at the table,
a lucky dog named Poseidon.
Mary Beth, my friend,
Irina, a new friend.
Susanna, so pretty,
so sweet, but, what a taskmaster!
Joan, a flirt with his wink,
passionate, stern and authoritative (well, he tries).
This is my third attempt to write in this diary... now I know why I never owned one! A Greek saying comes to mind “Ta polla logia ine ftohia...” meaning that saying to much defeats the purpose... or something like that! So... from the bottom of my heart I want to thank all of you, Joan, Susie, Suzanne, Maribeth and of course Posi and the dolphins for making this week one that i will cherish for the rest of my life! Learned a lot, laughed a lot, looked a lot, bounced a lot, guessed a lot (+/-100 meters!) and of course ate A LOT! Loved it all! Thank you guys.
29 September 2009
This morning we woke up ready to make the most of our last day at sea, and after poor weather kept us moored in the house for two days prior, we were ready for it. I hummed the song Something Only We Know to myself, the song from Keane’s album The Iron Sea, which was popularized in the movie He’s Just Not That Into You. As the boat shuttled out past the marina this morning, we headed toward the open gulf in search of dolphins, one last sighting, one last day to help with the conservation efforts of Tethys Institute and our research leader, Joan Gonzalvo. I looked down at the water beside me, to the left side of the rubber inflated boat. The clarity of the water became more opaque as we headed further out, but was still translucent enough to allow sightings of dolphins bowriding, a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ scenario that I was lucky enough to witness on our most recent sighting. It wouldn’t occur today, but I kept my eyes peeled, in case. I also kept an eye further out, where the sea appeared as a dark teal that deepened in color as the depth of the water increased. Ahead of the bow, the dark water wrinkled just enough for small waves to sift up and back into the water again, hosting small spots of sunlight that sparkled like diamonds laid upon a velvet cloth. The sun beckoned freckles forth from the pale skin of my nose and I basked in the warmth, as I kept my eyes trained on the water. ‘Just one’, I thought, ‘we just need one sighting and the rest will follow’. Finally, Joan shouted out, ‘One o’clock! Far out!’ And the boat throttled faster toward the direction of his outstrectched hand. We continually thereafter spotted a small group, maybe between four and six dolphins. By now, we had been through the routine of spotting and counting these animals, but the sightings were just as awe-inspiring, watching sleek slate grey beasts rise and fall soundlessly out of the iron sea.
Toward the end of the day, I glanced over my shoulder at our boat’s stern – the water beyond us had taken on an icy blue appearance that seemed as flat as glass below the mountains of the region, giant monoliths that faded into the mist like shadows. I shook myself from the mesmerizing sight. Someone had spotted our guy, one single solitary dolphin traveling alone, with no telltale marks yet, but the ability to capture our hearts. I snapped several photos with my personal camera, unable to tell from the glare whether it was a good shot or not. Luckily I did end up with one good shot of the cetacean emerging from the sea – one single solitary shot - but a million memories will linger in my mind. From trying out my greetings in Greek with the locals to snapping photos of the grapes hanging off their trellises; avoiding jelly fish at the beach with purple centers that remind me of brains; traveling to Lefkada and Poros for day trips; cooking together and sharing meals; this has been a well thought out and wonderful trip. On this eighth day, I didn’t spot any sea turtles, but rumor has it, they’re around. When end of the work day was near, we witnessed a pelican to the far right by a small rust colored island covered with a dusting of nubby logan green bushes. This was a nice bonus. Finally we turned the boat south and headed back to Vonitsa, tired and mentally fatigued, but content. By now, we’d witnessed mothers and their calves, groups of dolphins feeding and leaping, often swimming so close together in small groups of two or three that from a distance they almost appeared to be the same animal. From time to time members of our team glanced at each other, exchanging smiles, watching the dolphins living peacefully and seemingly unperturbed, with no need to put on a show for us - this was the real thing. It was something only we knew.
I’ll never forget this experience, these people and the wonderful Greek people of Vonitsa. Joan, you were right – and every mishap that happened to me along the way was worth it. I’ll second the opinion of past volunteers- the videos impacted me tremendously and I’ve already begun to share the Whaletrackers links with friends and family. To Earthwatch, Tethys, and my teammates: Thanks for everything. One of my favorite responsibilities was jumping from the boat to shore with the ropes. Thanks for letting me. PS –I had the best seat in the house at the bow of the boat!
This was truly the experience of a lifetime. I was the lucky winner of a drawing at my company, Petro-Diamond, for an Earthwatch expedition. I chose “The Dolphins of Greece” for a few reasons, the first was... I wanted to see Greece. I did not see myself coming to Greece on a vacation, so I wanted to take the opportunity to visit this beautiful land. The second reason was because I have always found dolphins to be interesting, more interesting than the other creatures of the sea, almost like they have a kinship with humans somehow. I have been forever changed in my appreciation for these beautiful animals. Joan and Aina were so patient with the team the first day at sea out of Vonitsa, we were a bit overwhelmed with the number of dolphins all around us. It was such a wonderful sight!! Dolphins everywhere... literally everywhere that you looked. It was difficult to stay focused on the project at hand and not be in awe of what was in front of you. Once we were back at the house, we began the cropping, grouping and matching... so many differences in a dorsal fin, who knew? Well, I know now.
I will forever view the sea differently and have a deep appreciation for sealife and especially the beautiful dolphins. The meals together were a highlight, planning and prepareing and cleaning up after them, all of it was a delight. I would like to thank Joan and Aina for the hospitality that they showed us during our stay (Posi was a great addition to the group considering I miss my dogs that are at home in Cali). Joan was truly entertaining (funny and straight-up... love that) and a good sport to host us for most of our expedition without an assistant. Also, thank you to Earthwatch for giving me the opportunity to have this experience. Lastly, thank you to my team... I truly felt that we worked well as a group in the boat and back at the house! Thank goodness that we had playing cards, and David to teach us every game known to man!!
19 September 2009
As the last day of the expedition comes to an end, I am able to reflect on all the information I have learned and gathered from watching the documentaries, presentations, and dolphin sightings this past week. Although I have some previous knowledge about overfishing and dolphins, coming on the project has reminded me how naive the rest of the world actually is and the need to spread more conservation awareness. Perhaps people just need more hands on experience to realize the danger humans pose to wildlife and the need to help them. Thanks to Joan and Aina for being patient with us and for helping us learn more about dolphins while having fun with us. Maybe, one day, we will randomly meet again somewhere, whether it is the water or in another country! Organizations like Earthwatch give us a wonderful eye-opening experience and hopefully, more people will be able to join projects like this one. Thanks!
The last day has arrived and we are getting ready to depart. The Dolphins of Greece Expedition has met all my expectations and more! The sightings of the dolphins were spectacular and Joan and Aina were great teachers. Their strongest aspect was showing their enthusiasm and dedication to the research and imparting their knowledge on us. What I will take out of this experience is the education. The videos had such an impact; they bring the criticality of the environmental aspects and the impact of the choices we make. Understanding the critical linkages to the environment and the future of all marine mammals and fish were eye opening. I know that my personal choices will be reinforced. I will also search out for opportunities to help others bridge that knowledge to bring about change, which will be my ultimate challenge. Thank you again for the great experience. The only thing I would change is altering my approach to my turn at cooking. Fine restaurants or doing all the dishes for the week would be great incentives and a lot more pleasurable for everyone. Thanks!
This having been my first environmental expedition and first time to Greece, there was a lot to take in and experience. Outside of the opportunity this provided to observe the unique characteristics of Greek and Spanish...sorry, “Catalan” cultures, I came away with a deeper insight and greater appreciation for the men and women that dedicate their lives to bring about environmental awareness and global change. Not to mention further fuelling my desire to remain involved in conservation endeavors, while exploring the rest of the globe.
10 September 2009
A few days ago, two V.I.D. (Very Important Dolphins) were encountered around the island Kalamos: Pira and Spiti, both bottlenose dolphins, seen together in a group of 11 individuals.
In 2006 Pira, a male, had a piece of yellow fishing net stuck in his blowhole, but by July 2009 he had managed to extrude the net from the blowhole. During the September sighting, Pira went to bowride in front of our research boat and Joan Gonzalvo took some nice photos of the blowhole, confirming that the net went away without causing any visible problem.
Spiti is the most popular dolphin among volunteers who had a chance to see this dolphins around Kalamos, thanks to his distinctive non-fin. Spiti's dorsal fin has been cut-off (possibly by a longline or a boat propeller) in 2003. Despite the dramatic amputation, Spiti recovered well and pigmentation went back to the original dark grey color.
Top photo: Pira bowriding our research boat
Bottom photo: Spiti with his missing dorsal fin
09 September 2009
Everyone comes here for different reasons and with different expectations. I came on short notice, with little fanfare or personal preparation, but with the expectation that I have been given a rare opportunity to contribute to something greater than myself, and I leave hoping that I have not let anyone down. Seeing dolphins in their natural habitat, assisting with the research, learning and understanding more the impact of our seafood consumption and consumerism globally can be very eye opening, and challenging. This is the type of experience that has the potential to change your life, in little and in big ways. We were a small team, two volunteers and two researchers, I want to say that Joan and Aina were very patient with us, and worked very hard to ensure that the two of us had a memorable experience from start to finish. They both took good nature jokes made by me and my volunteer partner and laughed through many meals while maintaining the position of leader/teacher and kept us focused and on track to make our contribution to this fabulous research project.
Learning about the environmental challenges of the Amvrakikos Gulf has been an educational experience. Learning about dolphins has been not just educational, but exciting! While I am not a scientist and have limited skills, it is a good feeling to be able to contribute to scientific research in some small way and to help prepare a conservation management plan for these precious resources. Joan and Aina are very dedicated, knowledgeable, patient and kind. They made my time here a rewarding experience and had endless patience with my fumbling ways and many questions. They are both good instructors and committed biologists and understand how to motivate volunteers. Their good nature and sense of humour led to many good times together. They also enhanced our exploration of the areas tourists by giving us good suggestions of food, tavernas and local places to visit. The dolphin project can open one’s eyes in many ways and I hope many others have an experience as fulfilling as mine. Thank you Joan, Aina, Earthwatch and partner Marsha for a terrific experience.
There once was a man named Joan,
Who rose when still the dew on,
‘Cause dolphins he chased,
Round the sea in a race,
As intently his gum he chewed on.
There once was a girl named Aina,
As pretty as Princess Diana,
She worked like a slave,
Till she fell in her grave,
‘Cause dolphins to her were not minor.
The team sails out at sunrise,
Half awake and with so blurry eyes,
On a search far and near,
For sea creatures so dear,
And with nary a hope for a prize.
The sun it beats down very hot,
The boat heaves and flops quite a lot,
We can hardly hold on,
We cringe and we moan,
But they push us until we drop.
Our captain he yells and he screams,
As we think of wine and ice cream,
“Look one to three,
And not at your knee,
You’ve missed 20 dolphins I’ve seen!”
“Sit down, stand up”, he commands,
“look here, look there, all around.
Don’t pull any stunts,
Do it all, all at once,
And don’t behave like a clown”.
Six dolphins, they jump at seven,
And six more, they dive at eleven,
Their fins have some nicks,
As if beaten by sticks,
I know we will see them in heaven.
They demand reliable data,
Like how and when did he mate her?
How long was the dive?
Their calves, four or five?
Is his fin like a flattened potato?
Our lovely assistant is cool,
She knows and obeys every rule.
She ties all the ropes
And tugs all the floats, A
nd ensures that we are not fools.
We drag our butts home all hot,
We yearn to escape the despot,
“Oh no, onward team!
There’s more in our scheme,
For now we must dot and crop!”
Oh Tursiops truncatus so dear,
For you we will give many years,
And sacrifice all,
To answer the call
When Joan and Aina want us near.
02 September 2009
The web site section of the Ionian Dolphin Project has been updated to include work conducted until July 2009.
Check it out!
The Ionian Dolphin Project is a long-term research and conservation programme conducted by the Tethys Research Institute in the Ionian Sea.
In 1991 the Tethys Research Institute started a study around the island of Kalamos, in the Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago (a Natura 2000 area). Initially meant to be a long-term investigation on the ecology and behaviour of common dolphins in a central Mediterranean hotspot, the study documented their sharp decline. Common dolphins declined dramatically from about 150 to 15 animals between 1995 and 2007. Actions by Tethys aim to facilitate their recovery. Bottlenose dolphins are found in the same area in relatively small numbers, but have stable trends and were studied intensively over the past decade. Ongoing monitoring allows to detect changes in population status and propose timely management measures.
In 2001 Tethys started a study in the Amvrakikos Gulf, where bottlenose dolphins are the only cetacean species encountered. This study showed that about 150 dolphins live in the Gulf. These dolphins are members of a resident community showing unique behaviour and ecology. The Gulf - which is part of a larger National Park - is also inhabited by loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta and has a rich bird fauna including rare species. Research carried out by Tethys is documenting how the local dolphin community interacts with its environment and how human activities - particularly fishing and pollution - may influence its conservation status.
In 2009 Tethys started a new study in the Gulf of Corinth to investigate the ecology and status of three cetacean species: bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins and short-beaked common dolphins. Although the number of striped dolphins living in the Gulf is still unknown, concerns over their status are raised by their likely small population size, high degree of geographic isolation, reproductive closeness and limited extent of occurrence. Striped dolphins in the Gulf are often associated with a few common dolphins and inbreeding between the two species may occur. Bottlenose dolphins also live in the Gulf at low densities.
Research by Tethys is providing support to management efforts in the eastern Ionian Sea, through actions including:
- continued monitoring of dolphin groups through field research methods including boat surveys and individual photo-identification, to detect population trends, identify critical habitat, and gain further insight into ways of mitigating the present threats;
- research on factors threatening the local ecosystem, particularly with regard to the impact of fishing;
- public awareness initiatives (e.g. involvement of a large number of volunteers, “Dolphin Days” and other events organized locally, public presentations, lectures at local schools, video productions);
- contacts and meetings with the local Authorities and fishermen organisations, aimed to a) raise awareness on the need to establish measures to protect dolphins and implement the existing regulations (e.g. with regard to illegal fishing activities); and b) identify ways to compensate any losses for fishermen or promote a progressive re-conversion of their activities;
- dissemination of information in the scientific literature and provision of sound data and management proposals to international agreements and bodies concerned with the protection of marine biodiversity.
30 August 2009
As I sit and think of how to share my experiences of the past week, I find myself a little speechless. Then reading the other entries from days and years past – I find that I am in good company feeling as if their time with the dolphins has been unforgettable! I was worried when I booked the trip ... I am not a scientist, what if I screw up their research (I think I broke that pesky handheld computer)? who knew that my biggest problem would be trying to type an English entry from an Italian keyboard!
This past week has been a marvelous experience and I believe all of the thanks belong to three people – Marina, the crazy Italian who has an unhealthy fascination about jellyfish and wanting to live under the sea (I will return to work singing that song), Susie, a wonderful research assistant who cannot sit still if you paid her and Marcello, an Italian with a Scottish brough (who knew that could happen). Not to mentiont a few cetaceans (look I learned a new word) that were simply amazing! And when I mean just a few, I mean a “focal group size” between 8 and 20 with adults, calves and a few newborns. I am going to go home wondering and dreaming – which is smarter, bottlenose or common, are we positive or negative – when can I stop looking at my feet now? which is cooler, boat riding or jumping (sorry – aerial behavior) dolphins? I have my answers and I hope the volunteers after me have all the opportunities I had to come to their own conclusions. I may just be back next year to confirm my answers. Thank You!
21 August 2009
Dolphins of Greece, an evocative term for a fantastic expedition. Patient, friendly, good humoured, and infectiously enthusiastic about their work Marina and Zsuzsanna are great people and great teachers. Possi was great as well, although now he’s behaving better he’s starting to get boring. The volunteers on this team were also great, we got on well and worked together easily and efficiently. My thanks therefore to Jen, Rick, and Christoph, as well as Marina and Zsuzsanna for a wonderful time.
The work and experiences themselves were amazing. I’ll never forget the large group of juvenile dolphins showing stereotypical teenage behaviour (shoving, pushing, playing and flirting with each other), the two dead sea turtles we found, or the worry on our final boat trip that we wouldn’t see any dolphins. I wish I was able to stay and carry on working on this project, preferably with this team, but I have to return to the UK. So it’s with fond memories and sadness that I say farewell to Vonitsa and my first Earthwatch experience. I’ll definitely be trying to get on others, possibly this one again, and also to support Tethys.
As the expedition drew nearer, we tried to keep our expectations as reasonable as possible. So many people had told us of the beauty of Greece and of the incredible food for years leading up to our flight to Athens and bus ride to Vonitsa. Despite some airport delays and significant jet lag, we finally made it. Now as we wrap up our Earthwatch expedition I can safely say that all of our expectations were met and exceeded. Greece delivered the as-promised amazing food, the sights, the generous locals, the heat and the dolphins. But the importance of all of those things pale in comparison to the people we worked with on this expedition. Our volunteer-mates were hard-working yet fun. We immediately connected with both James and Christoph and together we created a memorable expedition. Our leaders, Susie and Marina, were incredibly professional and yet casual at the same time. They made sure that the work got done but also passed along the awe of seeing the dolphins (and jellyfish and turtles, albeit mostly dead ones). As teachers ourselves, we know that many behind-the-scenes details need to get done to make any learning experience happen. Susie and Marina undoubtedly worked very hard to provide the best possible experience for us. Their dedication and hard work led to great days on the sea and wonderful learning opportunities on land. Their love of the animals and of their work was infectious. And, of course, their sense of humor brought smiles everyday. They are scientists, for sure, and we are not, but they made us feel like a vital part of a team doing important research.
On one of the first days we were lucky enough to spot 4 dolphins in Kalamos after many prior trips (before we arrived) turned up none. But even before that turn of good luck, we noted what an amazing thing Earthwatch is able to do. Our van was like a little United Nations with American, Austrian, Brit, Hungarian, and Italian practicing bits of Greek sharing our own cultural quirks. We traded pieces of our own lives back home to make for an enriching experience. We have become more aware consumers of fish and more appreciative of the work that scientists do. We will bring home a new-found respect for the sea and for the people that tend it. Most importantly we will return home having made 4 great friends and so many memories we will never forget. The expedition far exceeded our expectations because of the wonderful people we were able to share it with. Thanks for everything! Efharisto para poli!
Rick and Jen (USA)
10 August 2009
The Earthwatch experience in Vonitsa was everything I had hoped it would be and much more. Not only did we get a good insight into the daily work of a marine researcher. We also got the privilege to be touched by the passion of Susie and Marina – two of the true heroes in Tethys; one of the organizations that stand between us and the total collapse of sea life as we have known it from the birth of mankind until today.
I think I speak for all the team members (in what I would absolutely call a stellar team) when I say that we will all return to our home countries filled with inspiration to make a difference in the fight for our oceans. That was the serious part. On top of that, I have had an absolutely wonderful time here. With warm, generous and fun people, both the team members and of course our hosts: diligent, helpful and sweet Susie and energetic, bubbly, Berlusconi-bashing Marina. Add to that the stunning Greek landscape, wholesome delicious food and the one around which everything revolves: Posi the dog. I could not possibly have spent a better 9 days!
The summerheat of Greece seems to have melted the normally cold hart of this Scandinavian. I am feeling quite emotional about having to leave Vonitsa and getting on the plane home tomorrow. My expectations for this expedition were met and surpassed. Learning about the research was interesting and a great eye opener. Spotting dolphins was exiting, but the interaction with my fellow team mates and the researchers was without a doubt the best part. I have gained great respect for all the hard work and dedication required to give us -amateurs- a short glipse of the work of a marine biologist. Thank you so much!
Finally, I would like to give HUGE thanks to Marina and Zsuzsanna for taking such good care of us. Marina, you showed so much knowledge, energy and passion that I almost want to become a marine biologist myself. Susie, although you can be a bit bossy at times, I am just lost for words to describe how much I appreciate the effort you have put into guiding us through the expedition. It wouldn′t have been the same without you.
29 July 2009
I thought the lack of sleep was going to be a major problem when I arrived to find we would be awake at 7am each day, but with the atmosphere of the other volunteers, Susie and Joan the sleep was soon forgotten… until the beautiful siesta in the afternoon. Waking up to the thought of your day being spent identifying dolphins and their behaviour, as well as the odd sea turtles (they are so cute!), was amazing. It was a dream I have always wanted to fulfil. You almost get to know the animals through the cropping and matching activities in the afternoon and feel as though you are helping them directly by conducting a part of the data collection for scientific research. I had never seen a dolphin before, not even at a zoo, so the size was what struck me, as well as the cheeky grin on their face. The evening lectures were really interesting and I learnt so much, which was helpful to supplement the work we completed on the field. The video on overfishing, even though I had seen it previously, has a strong message and impressed me once again. Susie and Joan were so nice! And made us feel like friends straight away which was helpful as the first day was really daunting. I spent the previous night in hotel Vonitsa whih was unbelievably friendly but also quite lonely because I have never travelled alone before but, once we all met and went back to the field station I felt completely at ease. Joan cracked jokes almost instantly which allowed us to speak freely and Susie was so incredibly supportive. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity it was totally lifechanging and made me even more passionate about conservation and how you should never give up!
This was certainly the most unique experience I have had in my life. As an environmental lawyer, it felt amazing to work so close to the nature as well as to learn about dolphins and other marine mammals. Being at the sea in the morning and seeing so many dolphins was great! In addition, helping with the cropping and matching made me feel like if I was part of this project. The presentations and films were very enriching and for sure will contribute to a better development of my profession as well as for my personal evolution. Besides these most obvious things, this expedition turned to be much more than I expected in many ways. The house is extremely cosy and Joan and Susie made us feel at home all the time! We have had so much fun at lunch and dinner! They are very special people! The team was very nice and of course, Posi is so cute! To sum up, everything was great! Thank you so much Joan and Susie! I will miss these days!
The scenery, the atmosphere and the people were all wonderful. Joan and Susie were both very helpful and great fun. We were made to feel right at home from the very beginning. The lectures were very informative and interesting. We learned a lot about the dolphins and other marine mammals. The dolphin sightings were amazing! We got to see a large group feeding very close to our boat and the dolphins really put on a great show for us. They are so cute. We were extra lucky and saw about 16 dolphins in Kalamos on the first day in that area where, unfortunately, it is rather normal not to see any dolphins at all. We helped Susie and Joan with the cropping and matching and it was a great feeling to be able to help in this way. The heat was quite intense for us Canadians but we learned to do "siesta" in the afternoon after the first couple of days. The food was amazing. Everybody had a turn at making the evening meals so we all had input in what we ate. We feel we had a very good group of ladies, and Joan and we were all able to work very well together and good fun. This was the greatest experience in our lifetime. Thank you to Joan and Susie for making this such a wonderful experience.
Jenna and Kim, Canada
27 July 2009
Finally! Today, just after 15 minutes of navigation around the transparent waters of Kalamos we had our first sighting of the year. It was my seventh time surveying the area this year and I already had come to terms with the fact that a sighting, given the low dolphin density in these waters, was quite unlikely.
When my colleague Susie called out! I couldn’t believe it. My perplexity however, lasted only three seconds; the time it took me to turn around and spot the familiar silhouettes of the dolphin’s dorsal fins smoothly cutting the sea surface. As we approached them we confirmed that they were bottlenose dolphins. We spent over three hours photoidentifying the 16 dolphins of the group and recording their behaviour with the invaluable help of our five Earthwatch volunteers (Anabelle, Kim, Jenna, Lilly and Patricia). I cannot think of a better spot for the dolphins to pop up and make my day. Right in front of the beautiful village of Episkopi, where we had our field base for over 15 years and where, with no doubt, I have had some of the best moments of my life.
Because of my exclusive dedication to the research in the Amvrakikos Gulf for the past years, my last sighting in Kalamos was in 2004. Today, being around that group of dolphins felt special. Since I switched on the camera to get started with the photo-id, many memories kept coming to my mind: my first sighting (in a nearby location, 11 years ago); the first day I grabbed the camera with shaky hands after Giovanni (Bearzi) handed it to me and, with his sweet voice, said “Joan, six dolphins: photoidentify them all - you have half an hour”; the first research season in which me and my fratello Stefano (Agazzi) were in charge of the research and logistics on our own; and many hours spent in the company of these wonderful creatures…No doubt, I would not be the same person without all these experiences on my shoulders
The good old days of common and bottlenose dolphins being a regular sight around Kalamos are gone. However, allow me to be naïve and insufflate some optimism and hope. Today’s sighting also means that there is still a chance of things getting better in Kalamos. Today’s sighting was no mirage.
23 July 2009
Back in 2007, I remember coming to the Amvrakikos Gulf with no previous experience. Thanks to the several months spent in the field, I am now more adept, but I still have to learn how to stand up on my own after a fall. While working in different study areas with my colleagues, I’ve got many chances of broadening my skills. Advise from my teachers Giovanni, Stefano and Joan allowed me to improve myself, but then the time arrives when one must fly away from the nest.
This time arrived earlier than I thought when Joan asked me to run a boat survey on my own. I felt fortunate to finally get such a nice opportunity and although my knees were shaking a bit, I felt joy.
On that morning, the Amvrakikos Gulf was completely flat so the circumstances were ideal. I decided to head towards the northwestern part of the Gulf. Everyone on board was eagerly scanning the sea surface until… out at 11! When the dolphins surfaced in the distance, my heart started to beat fiercely. But as we got closer I had become more focused on my several tasks, and oblivious of my initial excitement.
When I realized that there was a calf in the group, a smile appeared on my face. It is always a nice moment to see a tiny life following her mother with its clumsy surfacings. The dolphins, including the mother-calf pair, approached a fish farm. This was unexpected, because calves normally do not get close to the cages. At that moment, I realised that I wasn’t just an observer but I could understand what was going on and share this knowledge with my group of volunteers.
It was amazing to see things from another perspective compared to the sightings when I was acting as a research assistant, and someone else was in charge. Things that only a year ago appeared so overwhelmingly difficult, like driving the boat, taking good photos, recording the behaviour and directing people on board, all at once, now unfolded smoothly, and this gave me even more confidence and pleasure.
I still have a lot to learn in this field, but at least I could enjoy the feeling of being a leader for one day and experiencing how it feels to be responsible for a group of people on board, for all the data collection and for Joan’s ‘baby’, the inflatable.
In the end, everybody survived the first sighting with me. One volunteer, Jane, had a particularly good experience and her feelings came to surface after we moored the boat, back at the port, when I saw tears of joy in her eyes. Guys - it was a great experience for me, too! Thank you for being such a good team!
19 July 2009
What an incredible opportunity it has been to participate in Earthwatch’s Dolphins of Greece expedition. After a few excruciatingly hot days in Athens, I travelled to the indescribable town of Vonitsa, which pictures will not do justice to reflect its true beauty. The past eight days have been filled with memories, fun times, and educational opportunities that will stay with me for a lifetime. I feel so fortunate to have worked with a team of amazing volunteers - Avril, Allegra, Jane, and Matt. Also, as an educator myself, I have truly appreciated Joan and Susie’s (each unique) teaching styles which have allowed us all to learn so much about not only dolphins and Greece, but also a wide range of issues critical to the preservation of our Earth’s valuable resources.
Dolphins, dolphins, dolphins
What can I say? This has been one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had and I enjoyed every bit of it, from the amazing dolphins to the unbearable heat! Vonitsa is a beautiful place and the introduction to it couldn’t have been better! I’ve learnt so much in a week, it’s incredible! I definitely won’t forget the dolphins bowriding our boat! I never thought I’d get to see them so close, let alone watch them feeding and swimming only a few meters away from us! Thanks for all the laughter and amazing moments. This expedition definitely showed me that it’s worth fighting for these beautiful animals!
Vonitsa, Vonitsa. Oh how I will miss you. With your dolpins, gyro pitas and half-liter Heinekens, this is an experience that will never be forgotten. The heat rash and lack of modern room cooling practices will not be missed, however. Being my second Earthwatch trip, I came with some level of expectation and my stay here exceeded them all. This expedition would not have been so enjoyable if there were any other individuals in charge besides Joan and Susie. They're the greatest! Best of luck to the entire Tethys team and the wonderful work they are doing here.
Dolphins of Greece,
Dolphins of Greece,
Oh how I will miss you.
You have surpassed the expectations that I have come with, and leave me to take a fresh new heart and eye for the world that surrounds me.
The land that you reside comes anew with the species that we have to help preserve.
Dolphins of Greece, your eye, your breath, your percussive and aerial behaviour never fails to awe me.
The beauty of the way that you travel and the way that you feed will always stay close to my heart.
I take with me the fond memories of you.
For the children of our future, I promise to educate about you.
Your protectors, amongst the many, Joan, Susie, Tethys, Earthwatch and many more will continue to care and watch over you.
Joan and Susie, thank you for teaching us about this species.
The new found knowledge that you have bestowed unto me will continue through my students.
The intelligence that you have shared will continue to spread through me.
My heart smiles as I leave Vonitsa.
11 July 2009
Coming to Vonitsa as a research assistant happened naturally for me. The Mediterranean Sea and its beautiful coasts, is a region very close to my heart, and I immediately knew that I had to be a part of the Ionian Dolphin Project.
It was late evening when I arrived in Vonitsa. I managed to block out the lively music from the packed tavernas and focus on the lectures and terms racing through my mind. I reviewed the highlighted papers that were rolled up under my arm and I was certain that I was prepared for my first time working in the field, and my first time with any cetaceans in the wild.
My first sighting of a group of bottlenose dolphins came sooner than I had expected. Alongside the Earthwatch volunteers, on our first trip towards the center of the Amvrakikos Gulf, two adults stretched on the surface and peered out in our direction before an entire group of dolphins came into sight and began to forage. I felt the adrenaline immediately, and of course my mind went blank. Thank you Joan, for always getting me back on track.
As a Biology student you become overwhelmingly aware of the accumulating threats facing marine mammals and their sensitive habitats. As most of these threats occur on a global scale, they are often difficult to grasp and they only become a constant reminder that you are just one individual. Ultimately, it becomes all too easy to get lost in your studies and to lose sight of your way and where to begin to make change.
In the short time I’ve spent in Vonitsa I’ve learned more than I could have prepared myself for. I feel like I’ve grown more as a Biologist during these ten days than in my five years at the University. Thank you to the Earthwatch volunteers for sharing their time, from the dedication in the field to the painful belly laughs over dinner. On my last day out in the Gulf we sighted two calves with their mothers foraging by their sides. It is with these experiences, when science becomes something tangible, something that you can share with others, that all the lectures, the stress, and the long nights finally make sense again, and you remember that this is how one person can begin to make a change.
10 July 2009
After a long trip I am usually ready to return home, but working with Joan and Iva and the dolphins has been such a wonderful experience that I wish it could go on for a few more days.
Our group was very impressed with Joan’s abilities, especially to take photo’s while driving the boat with one foot, while giving directions to us volunteers on where to keep our eyes. “Shout louder please Sophie, I can’t hear you”. Joan, your knowledge, dedication, and patience is admirable. I will take your message back to my students to inspire them, and challenge them to take better care of our planet so that dolphins and every other creature (humans too!) can enjoy a beautiful healthy planet.
Many thanks to Iva for teaching me how to use the netpad and all her help with the photo cropping, grouping and matching. Without your help we’d still be working on the first batch of photos.
For 9 days, I was living in my childhood fantasy that I would have a dolphin as my pet and have a bathtub big enough for it. Here in Vonitsa, I have a beautiful “bathtub” big enough to hold more than 150 amazing dolphins, lots of sea turtles and different kinds of fishes. When the dolphins were surrounding us, we could hear them breathing so peacefully. I almost jumped out of the boat to swim with them. (Sorry Joan, I know you said they’re wild animals just like tigers and lions. Swimming with them is unpredictable)
The day we did our last survey at Amvrakikos Gulf, I saw a group of 5 dolphins in the afternoon from the beach. They were about only 200m away which supposedly to be the closest sighting “ever”! We took it as a gesture of saying goodbye to us.
This is my first Earthwatch expedition and I enjoyed every second of it. Joan is an experienced marine biologist with great knowledge and enthusiasm. He is also a REAL guy and you feel like yourself around him. All of our group members liked him a lot and probably went home with lots of precious “quotes” from him. (Some might not be approperiate for kids) Thanks Joan, Iva, Marcia, Maureen, Sophie and Bo for this wonderful experience in my life!
I visited Greece many years ago as a tourist and always wanted to return as something more. This expedition and Earthwatch have provided me with that opportunity. Joan is a magnificent research scientist doing and sharing so much more than merely his knowledge. He is implementing a program to hopefully change the fate of the dolphins he studies.
Iva’s patience and kind expertise (even as she learns ) is inspirational. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity. The sea, the dolphins, the village and all of the knowledge that you imparted are appreciated and will be shared many times over with friends and associates. Hopefully a greater impact will be made as a result of all of your efforts!
When I arrived I had never seen a dolphin outside an aquarium. Now, a week later, I have a mental catalogue of cetacean friends. Tip for new photo-matchers: mnemonics help! “Wedge” and “Kissy Lips” were much easier (and more fun!) to spot than “A2” and “A14”. I enjoyed the simple, slow life of a (pampered, wannabe) marine biologist. I ate delicious food. I breathed clean air. I learned a lot. I laughed a lot! Thanks, Joan, for showing us your version of what life can be when it’s not about “stuff”.
PS – Some useful Greek phrases:
KaliMERa! – Don’t forget your sun screen!
TeKANete? – Have you stepped on an urchin yet today?
PolikaLA! – Not yet!
YASSas! – Save the dolphins!
This has been a “brilliantly lovely” introduction to Greece, I'm so glad I came on this project. I feel like I've learnt so much in just a short space of time. Despite not being able to differentiate between 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock in the pressure of the moment, not yelling loud enough, and getting the distances all wrong, I hope I've helped in a small way (and not frustrated Joan too much!).
Congrats to Joan for all his hard work and dedication, its very impressive and inspiring. Congrats also to Iva, a top notch assistant! I will leave this place with many special memories – from “floating potatoes”, to “blip” the dolphin, to yummy greek salad (with cucumbers), to the “totally awesome” moment when a dolphin was bowriding right next to me!!!
Since I'm studying science at university I just want to mention how encouraging it was to see that the work done was carefully considered so as to be scientifically sound, and therefore valuable to the wider scientific community. Keep up the good work Joan et al ☺
Thanks for all the laughter, but also for showing one person can make a difference in the world. All the best to my lovely team of Nan & Bo, Marcia, and Maureen.
07 July 2009
What do dolphins in Greece have to do with whales in Maine? We wanted to know so we went to Greece to find out! As teachers in Expeditionary Learning schools, we qualified to apply for a grant from Fund for Teachers and received a fellowship to work with Earthwatch Institute.
For 10 days last Summer we worked with Tethys Research Institute as volunteers on the Dolphins of Greece expedition. We learned so much about dolphins and how they are identified and even got to know some of them by name. We found out what marine mammals need in order to survive and what conservation efforts exist or are being proposed in order to protect them. We learned about the methods scientists use to observe and record data in the field and turn that data into long term studies that demonstrate how people play a vital role in the survival of species. We also learned that all species are equally fascinating and equally important and that they are all interconnected. All species are threatened by pollution, loss of habitat and over fishing; and all species play a vital role in the delicate balance of nature.
As teachers we needed to take all that we had learned and transform it into an expedition for children that focused on the relevant content and skills they needed to learn at their grade level. And, as teachers of English as a second language, we needed to find a way to present information and concepts in a comprehensible manner. In addition to learning lots of information about individual species and forces at work within the ocean ecosystem, we wanted students to develop a spirit of curiosity and adventure. We wrote grants to buy materials and pay for field experiences. We went to teacher workshops and developed relationships with local experts. We met with other school personnel to get feedback and refine our plans. We named our expedition: The Sea and Me and began in the spring of ’09. Our guiding questions were: 1- Why should people care about the oceans? 2- Who lives in Casco Bay, Maine? Finally, 3- Is the Casco Bay ecosystem endangered?
With the students, we conducted experiments, watched You Tube videos, observed plankton, and took many trips to the shore to observe and record data. Through an L.L. Bean grant we were able to take our 2 classes on a 5 hour whale watch 20 miles out from Portland Harbor. Even though the trip was long and arduous (including lots of throwing up) everyone loved it! For days afterward students came to school asking when we were going in the boat again.
We developed a list of plants and animals that live here in Maine’s coastal waters and began researching their characteristics, place in the food web and threats to their survival. We looked at local sources of pollution and other threats to the animals such as overfishing and gear entanglement and read about laws created to protect them. We worked with local artists, authors and experts in the field. After researching and learning to care about the animals, the students created a final product in order to share what they had learned with others. The Middle School students created a book containing vital information about each species. The first and second grade class created a board game that illustrates the connections between plants, animals and people.
Our culminating event was a presentation of the final products to other classes of students at the East End Community School. In all, we created 10 sets of books and games to distribute. Teachers were impressed by the advanced vocabulary students used to explain complicated concepts. We were impressed by their excitement to learn, the bonding that developed between the two groups of students and their collaboration in this endeavor, and by their deeper understanding of the importance of preserving the ocean ecosystem and all that lives in it and depends on it.
Amy and Marcia, USA
In August 2008 Amy and Marcia participated as volunteers in the Dolphins of Greece expedition. From the first instant of their arrival they were eager to learn and to gather as much information as possible to take back with them to their classrooms. What they have managed to accomplish with their students is impressive and should be an example to be followed by many. Well done girls!
Tethys collaborator Zsuzsanna Pereszlényi received her MSc in Biology during an official cerimony at the University of Pécs, Hungary, after having also passed a most challenging State Exam.
Susie graduated with a thesis titled "Feeding behaviour of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the Amvrakikos Gulf, Greece".
Photo: Susie in regalia at her MSc cerimony
29 June 2009
Ok, so some of us get a bit confused about 9 o’clock vs. 3 o’clock, 8 o’clock vs. 2 o’clock, but we yell it out with great enthusiasm! My favorites from our group were the “Over there, by the bird!” and “Look, by the blue buoy!” Fortunately, Joan (almost always) kept a sense of humor about our novice ways.
It was an incredible week and I am sad to see it come to an end — even two days of rain couldn’t dampen our spirits or our opportunities to experience the amazing bottlenose dolphins of the gulf. To see newborns and juveniles and their protective moms was beyond description. My favorite “moment” (of many wonderful moments) was to sit quietly amongst a large group of dolphins, to listen to their breathing, to the unique sounds they make as they feed, and to hear and see how they communicate and coordinate with one another. Nothing can compare; it was an almost mystical experience that I wished could continue for hours.
I have learned much not only about the dolphins, but also about the complex interrelationships between fishing practices, pollution, fish farms, and the survival of the many species in our oceans. Thank you, Joan, for being such a great teacher and for your passion. The work Tethys and Earthwatch are doing will make such a difference. Thanks also for the opportunity to be a very small part of your efforts. I highly recommend this trip to anyone with interest in dolphins and our oceans!
Just to have the opportunity to be on the water in this gorgeous location is a pure pleasure, but this total experience exceeded my expectations in all regards. To be surrounded by feeding dolphins while seagulls circled overhead and terns dive-bombed for fish was a magical experience I will never forget.
I leave this trip with an increased respect for both the research and the researcher—how Joan could drive the boat while answering questions and at the same time manage to photograph all those animals was awesome. We now know how difficult it can be to identify an individual dolphin, but then Joan made it look so easy. When he could instantly identify a totally unmarked dorsal fin as the juvenile offspring of “Gindra” it made me realize how well he knows the 150 dolphins of Amvrakikos Gulf. And the sea turtles on the last day were amazing!
The video selection was a good thing. Never before have I considered what the fish eat that I consume. More “food for thought...”
Five people who had never previously met managed to form a good team. I thought I would die when I realized we would actually need to PLAN the meals as well as cook and clean, but that, too, turned out to really contribute to working as a group. Finally, Posi was much appreciated, because every once in a while you really need to pet a dog!
I thought I had made a mistake to come to Vonitsa after I filled out the enrollment forms. I felt I was joining a boot camp, but my experience in Vonitsa turned out to be pleasant and exciting.
I learned a great deal about the research done with the dolphins and turtles. The videos shown were informative and mind awakening. I learned more than I had expected and I am glad I came. Joan is very serious with the training and research, which is very important for the type of work done. I am confident and trust that my contribution was for a great cause and effort.
I understand the results of this research are made public to the Vonitsa’s community. It is critical to bring awareness to and get people involved in the project, so they feel part of this effort (it is their town), bring possible solutions, and make the project successful. Thank you to ALL of you for doing this job and for bringing awareness of this wonderful world of the dolphins.
21 June 2009
Isn’t it strange how six weeks sometimes feel like a small eternity? That’s at least the impression I have as my time here in Amvrakikos Gulf is drawing to an end. Once immersed in the pleasant routine of combined field and analytic work, everything else fades away and you feel like you have been here forever. Although a cliché, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this experience has paved the road for a new chapter in my life.
Professionally, I have learnt and developed tremendously, and have no doubt that this is my ‘path in life’ (to throw in another cliché). Personally, I have had a lot of fun and enjoyed every day out at sea. ‘Conservationally’, I hope that my work will make some kind of contribution to cetacean research.
On my last day we also made a second survey of the site of Kalamos, and the comparison with Amvrakikos is rather striking. This place looks like a paradise, but is unfortunately a paradise in decline, for dolphin-lovers at least. Listening to Joan describing the situation of 10 years ago, it is difficult to believe that hardly any cetaceans or marine mega fauna remain.
Being able to follow your beliefs and passions as part of your work is a privileged few are entitled. I thus feel doubly grateful for having had the opportunity to work with Tethys as a research assistant. A special thanks is due to Joan and Giovanni, whose guidance and support have made my time here not only possible but also challenging and exciting. Bon courage for next week Joan!
19 June 2009
I want to thank Earthwatch and Joan for a remarkable experience. Participating in your project has been an opportunity to visit a beautiful country and to contribute, even on a small scale, to a study that impacts our lifetime and future lifetimes. I am leaving the project with more knowledge than I had when I arrived, and I appreciate this. Once again, thank you, Joan, for sharing your knowledge with us newcomers and for appreciating that volunteers provide extra eyes and hands for your research. Best wishes to you and Tethys as you continue your efforts.
My heart is full. This has been a wonderful experience. Being on the gulf and being able to observe the dolphins engaging in their natural behavior is a treasure that I will carry with me and share with others. I am also grateful for the opportunity to learn how to recognize the individuals and to crop photos, match and catalogue those individuals. I believe in and agree with what you are doing. Keep up the good work. I also have to mention that I was very grateful to have Posi to come “home” to each day. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. We must learn to live by these words if we hope to see a positive difference in the state of our Earth. Being a part of projects like these gives us insight into how our every day choices has a definite impact on all aspects of life, and living beings. Thank you again for the opportunity to help make a positive difference. Efkharisto poli!
Life Changing trip... The lightbulb is certainly on now thanks to this Earthwatch project I had the opportunity to volunteer on. We learned so much! My mind was like a sponge drinking in all that Joan had to teach us during our time here. The documentaries after the computer work were very educational and I will never buy food the same way ever again. Had never seen a fish farm before coming here. The experience of the symbiotic relationship of the seagulls and the dolphins was beautiful. The town and the people of Vonitsa were wonderful. I had a great time with my team members. The learning curve with the computer work was very slight and therefore a fun experience in recognizing the individual animals by their fin. Great Trip! Would highly recommend an Earthwatch group to others. I plan on another project for next year... maybe whales? I am looking forward to the links Joan said he will send to us so we can continue our education and that of our family and friends about these beautiful mammals.
15 June 2009
What an incredible experience. Looking out across the Ionian sea at such a idyllic Greek postcard perfect scene it isn’t hard to believe there are dolphins here, but I was still unprepared for the huge thrill of observing them at such close quarters as they feed, socialise and occasionally perform aerobatics.
I feel totally immersed in another world both on water and at the field station where we live. I admit to taking a nerdish delight in learning to crop and match the photos of dolphin fins that are used to identify the dolphins we see each day and that help with the research being done to try and protect these vulnerable animals. It’s a long time since I absorbed such a lot of new information and enjoyed myself so much at the same time.
The chance to live and work with a scientist as knowledgeable and charismatic as Joan Gonzalvo is a real privilege. His passion for marine mammals and protecting their habitat is infectious. The arguments against pollution and overfishing that are ruining this precious environment are overwhelming. I hope that through the work of Earthwatch and their partner organisations the dolphins will survive here in the Amvrakikos Gulf and elsewhere, but that depends on real action to reverse current unsustainable levels of commercial fishing which have, for example, decimated the nearby dolphin population at Kalamos by robbing them of their food.
I don’t want to show the photographs of this amazing trip to my children when they’re older and say ‘Did you know that back in the olden days there used to be dolphins in the Mediterrenean.’
Andrea Catherwood is a British broadcaster and journalist writing a travel article for the Independent on Sunday newspaper.
11 June 2009
On June 8th, we carried out the first survey of the year in the area of Kalamos. It felt good to navigate these waters, where I had my first dolphin sighting ten years ago, after four years without personally doing any survey in this area.
However, no dolphins were spotted across more than 3 hours of survey under good sea state conditions. This was no surprise, considering the negative dolphin population trends that we have been describing over the years.
During the survey, countless anecdotes about the numerous sightings I had in these crystal-clear waters came to mind. It is hard to believe that an area that was so full of marine life just a decade ago has become such a desert. Surveying the area of Kalamos will help us keep in mind that bottlenose dolphin abundance in the Amvrakikos Gulf cannot be given for granted. Dolphins can and sometimes do decline in relatively short periods of time, and we must ensure that those we are studying in the Gulf won’t face the kind of anthropogenic impact that affected the area of Kalamos, former common dolphin paradise.
10 June 2009
I’m not much of a writer but after being here for almost three weeks I feel like I have so much to say. The problem is to gather the words to say how I feel.
It has been so amazing the whole experience… it has just been out of this world for me. I have learned so much from my two groups but especially from Joan and Christina. Joan has a talent like I have never seen before. The way he spots the dolphins, tracks them and monitors their every movement (with the help of his excellent volunteers). Christina is always eager to learn. During her spare time she even likes to write every one's recipes down so she can experiment herself.
I wish I were staying for another three weeks so I could keep having new experiences with the dolphins, with the new groups and with Christina and Joan. I would like to know more about overfishing and how it is affecting these amazing creatures in our ocean although Joan did an excellent job of explaining. Even after just the first week I felt like going outside and screaming my lungs out at all those fishermen who are destroying the marine life and natural habitats with their intrusive fishing gears and to all the greedy ones who just will not stop until everything is gone...
It is very nice here in the Gulf of Amvrakikos. We saw dolphins every day except one. But that could soon change; on our last day we went to Kalamos and we did not see one dolphin. There the water is crystal clear compared with Amvrakikos but their decline there was due to over fishing and Tethys researchers actually witnessed it. It is really sad to see such an amazing animal disappear as if it was never there… Luckly bottom trawlers and purse seiners are not allowed in the Gulf of Amvrakikos or who knows what the situation would be...
I’m glad I could help out on this course and will definitely be interested in doing another course like this one in the future. When I’ll get home I am going to spread the word about pollution, overfishing and the effects they have on our ecosystems. I would like to thank Joan and Christina for this wonderful and amazing experience that has really opened my eyes to a lot of things.
I booked this expedition way back in November 2008 for something to look forward to in 2009. Also, I had attended a couple of Earthwatch lectures prior to deciding which expedition to participate on (including the lecture on this expedition a few months earlier). As the date got closer, I got more nervous as I had no idea what to expect...what kind of people would I be living with for over a week, would I see any dolphins and would I mess up any of the data that would be collected for the research?... I am glad to say that I was put in a varied group of people from different backgrounds and with different experiences.
I think it is fair to say that we all got on and will have fond memories and stories to share with friends and family back home (however, though we all respected each other, I would have preferred more privacy in the living quarters but that’s the prude and ‘Sloanie’ in me) but it does not compare to (or take away) the exhilirating feeling of being in Joan’s Zodiac at quite high speed looking, finding and observing the dolphins. That is, by far, the best part of the expedition and I don’t think there is anything in my life that could ruin those moments. Plus, I think I did OK with the science bit.
The next challenge for me is how to apply what I have learnt from this trip into my day-to-day living when I return to reality. Finally, I have a lot of respect for Joan with his dedication to his work. It can’t be easy for him to have all these strangers turning up almost week-by-week but I think it is fair to say that those who have chosen to participate on this trip value the underlying reason for his work.
This was my first experience of an Earthwatch project and my first experience of doing anything like this. I wasn’t sure what would be expected of me, or how capable I would be of performing the required tasks. I’m pleased to say that Joan and Christina were very thorough and patient in their instruction and I soon felt like I was providing useful work for the project. It was sometimes difficult to remain focused in the boat, due to the beauty of the animals we were observing and Joan had to bring me back to earth with comments such as: “Exactly where is WOW” and “Over There! We will dump someone Over There!”
After the initial culture shock for some of us at the sleeping arrangements, the accommodation proved comfortable and we soon fell into a (mainly) harmonious existence. The communal cooking and meals were fun and it was also enjoyable to visit some of the local restaurants. I was constantly impressed by the commitment and professionalism of all those that work on this project, full or long term, I’m not sure I could handle it.
Just from what I have described to her on the phone, my wife has already expressed a strong interest in joining the project next year.
Jeff, UK (Greek resident)
06 June 2009
On board Joan (PI), Christina (research assistant), Khadiza, Jeff, Rory, Jenny and myself (Luca). As usual, we took the research boat at 8 am, after several hours surveying the waters of the Amvrakikos Gulf the crew was a little bit depressed, because we had not spotted any dolphins and the sun was hammering.
With the patience that characterizes me, I was the first to ask to go back to the shore. Fortunately Joan and Christina convinced us, with biologist tricks, to carry on for another half hour. Hence, a lot happened... Jenny was the first one to spot a dolphin fin with the help of Jeff. Immediately, we all started to see dolphins swimming, splashing and surface feeding on what was likely a large school of sardines. They were everywhere and occasionally at just few meters from our boat. It was an amazing feeling seeing these splendid creatures all around us… but more was yet to come!
As a Sicilian free-diver coming from the school of the several times world champion Pellizzari, Apnea Academy, I often visit the islands of Linosa and Lampedusa. They are two sanctuaries for sea turtles, my favourite sea animal. Especially in Linosa I always visit the “hospital” of sea turtles, treating animals by-caught in fish nets or injured as consequence of big boats going far too fast or with too little “brain”. However, it is very rare to see them swimming in nature nowadays. Well, yesterday Joan spotted one sea turtle, and we were all able to observe this fantastic animal, of at least 80 cm of carapace, swimming and resting at the surface. What a fantastic surprise! Truly an example of the immense beauty of nature.
In the Gulf, the visibility underwater is very reduced (just a few metres), which made our encounter even more unique. As a free diver in these last 15 years I have seen the inhabitants of the sea getting ill and progressively disappear. That’s why this encounter was so magic, you can presume that because of saying this I’m a radical ecologist, but this is not the case.
As a matter of fact before being a free diver, I am a spearfisher “a nasty boy in the mind of ecologist”, who for 20 years has been fishing around the coast of Sicily, south Italy and Greece. Telling you the truth the underwater world has no secrets for me, sad but true every time I go fishing now the chances to see and take a fish are increasingly more remote. It seems that the sea is progressively getting empty and very fast. This is why I chose to come over here and give my small contribution in terms of money and work to Earthwatch and Tethys. Not much, but something.
Well, not much more to say. Thanks for a wonderful day. I want to thank also this bunch of people I found here. Jeff with his English humour, Rory with his eternal support, Jenny and her stories on bird watching, Khadiza and her photoidentification skills and Christina for remembering me that feminism is not dead. You all made my life better, this 10 days here will remain in my memory. Last but not least, Joan, thanks to you also, even if you drive the boat as Schumacher in his best days.
01 June 2009
Connectedness makes me feel content, gives me hope, drives me to do and be more than I ever might otherwise—and this Earthwatch experience has been all about that, in my mind, giving me so much connection to things I have lost touch with over the years. Idealism about a better future. Curiosity about other ways of life. I see the connections better now between what happens at fisheries and what I eat from the supermarket. I understand a little more what about the connection between articles in magazines, documentaries, and public policy and what goes on behind the scenes in terms of what scientists are doing in the field.
The dedication of the staff is so inspiring. That they are also especially charming and interesting was a bonus, but I see now how that kind of openness and ability to connect with others makes them ideal for the human side of this important work. I’m sure it is a struggle for Joan to make friends with the locals, but he seems to be up to the task. Most importantly, I feel more connected to the effort to help these animals and these ecosystems.
I am now more motivated, better armed with powerful information, to take the message to friends and family and neighbours that we all have to work to solve the problem of over fishing our oceans. We can do something and we have to do something. Now. All my hopeful expectations for this trip were fulfilled. (Well...Joan never once let me drive the boat or shoot with that camera of his.... ☹. And I would not have minded seeing a loggerhead up close....) And none of that which I feared came to pass: It wasn’t too hot, I didn’t get sick on the boat (there was that one agonizing morning when I was afraid to say that I needed to fare il pee pee—hell, I was prepared to jump overboard, but thankfully this wasn’t necessary), the group dynamics were very enjoyable and enriching (I’d forgotten how much I can appreciate the energy of young people!), and we saw LOTS of dolphins doing their thing in the wild.
Personally, I was also very jazzed by the pelicans—they were like parasailers coming in for a landing, their wings are so wide. This experience has opened my eyes. I think of how I take so much for granted—eating fish whenever I want really (and I used to feel so good about that! I mean, it’s not red meat, right?), throwing my clothes in the dryer, jumping into a hot shower without a hesitation—and I am determined now that I can no longer live in this way without at the very least being mindful of my footprint. How can I make a difference, what can I do to be more conservation minded? This experience has given me some answers, some motivation, and for that I am exceedingly grateful. Thank you, Earthwatch and may I live up to my own expectations for myself now when I return to the States.
My first impression on the Zodiac - “Oh, this is what it is like to be a Somali pirate!”, but here we were not chasing boats to hijack, but rather chasing dolphins to understand them, and how they are affected by their habitat and how they adapt to its degradation. The work being done by Joan and the Tethys Institute is a beautiful example of how science can provide knowledge about the fascinating creatures with whom we share this globe, but also how that knowledge can be translated to affect public policy regarding the environment and the creatures who live in it. I felt privileged to be able to be a small part of that effort. Because the dolphins live at the top of the food chain (like tuna and swordfish) they can serve as a “bellweather species”, who serve as a proxy for the health of the environment (in addition to being a fascinating to watch).
What impressed me was how Joan and his colleagues have taken the information they acquire and not just turn them into publications to appear in scientific journals, but also use it to try to make a difference for both cetaceans and people alike. Their understanding covers the interrelationship between the dolphins themselves, the dolphins and their environment, and the political and cultural forces that lead to the degradation of the environment in notable. Their efforts at education, not only to the volunteers, but to the local community and to the larger public is impressive. I thought that during this trip I would learn about dolphins, but I learned so much more, especially about the ecosystems of the oceans.
I am a scientist so the process we went through everyday was new but familiar – a protocol and a procedure, different ways of coding data, and then crunching the fine detailed information to get a larger picture. But here the rewards were so tangible - sighting dolphins and being able to track them, seeing mothers with their newborn dolphins (who over the course of one small week learned to dive like an adult), and after days of struggling in which all dolphins fins looked alike, finally beginning to see distinct patterns. All of this added up to the huge satisfaction during the final day of being able to distinguish between two newborn dolphins (who we affectionately named “batboy” for his rakishly sweptback fin and “son of stubby” for his rounded fin, reminiscent of one of the adults).
And then there are the people who make this all happen. Joan has my deep admiration and respect. He clearly is a thorough and thoughtful scientist, who has a larger vision (and plan) for how his systematic scientific endeavors can have an important impact. His good humor, patience (and at times appropriate impatience), ability to communicate, knack for teaching and team building, and overall joy for life and the life of an activist scientist are infectious. And given my experience training graduate students, it was a real treat for me to watch him work with Christina – leading her, guiding her, and challenging her. And it was equally enjoyable to watch Christina as she learned the ropes, becoming more comfortable and familiar with the procedures, and also how she pushed back at Joan, asserting her independent viewpoint when appropriate, and stepping into the role of not just a student, but a partner. I admire her courage because all her mistakes and missteps were pointed out in front of a bunch of relative strangers. To retain such good humor under those conditions takes a special type of person.
And I also feel fortunate to have such good groupmates – Rory, ever so polite and considerate (with really sharp eyes and a really good way of catching the dolphins on video, although sometimes I could not understand everything he said in his thick Irish brogue) and Elah, who willingness to be open to experiences and just “be” in the world seemed a calm antidote to the chaos on board when the dolpins arrived – because they made the trip all the more special. I have learned so much in these past 9 days, and I am already thinking of the ways that I might build on what I have experienced to try and make a difference.
I was looking forward to being the first volunteer to participate in the program twice, but i was beat to the punch by the very lovely volunteer, Elah, whose entry is next. This experience has truly been one to remember. This is only my first session here and I already feel as if I’ve learned enough to change my views on the way I live my life. Although I’ve never been much of a fish eater (as the other volunteers have learned from barely being able to swallow what I’m sure was delectable shrimp made by Joan) I wouldn’t soon become one. After watching many documentaries on overfishing and discussing with Joan and my fellow volunteers of the current state of our oceans, I realize that we are responsible for changing how we manage our day to day lives regarding what we consume.
I’ve had an overall fantastic experience and am glad that I get to be here for another nine days. I would also like to mention Joan. Obviously without him a program like this could never exist. It’s with enthusiams and passion that he conducts his work and manages his volunteers. I’m deeply envious that he gets to wake up every morning and do what he loves and that he is able to share his experiences with the volunteers in the hopes that they retain and pass his message along.
Before I get into the specifics of what I’ve learned during the past two session, I would just like to start off by saying that this has been a truly amazing experience. Aside from being able to go out and see dolphins every day (albeit, every day save one) there were quite a few bonuses. Never having been to this part of the country before, the volunteers were able to take in the stunning scenery with fresh eyes as well as appreciate the beautiful sight that is a newborn swimmings alongside it’s mother and a few dedicated protectors.
However, I was pleasantly surprised that as a volunteer I wasn’t solely along for the ride. I felt as if I was helping to conduct valuable research rather than being made to do useless busy work and paying for it. Instead I was granted an experience that I will be talking, if not bragging about, for years to come. Although I specifically chose this program because it was in Greece and specialized in dolphins, during my first session there were two Earthwatch employees here as well. One who chose this project because she is a marine biologist, and the other who was randomly assigned to this program. Just after one day, it became quite obvious that the latter had gotten just as into it as me; a life long, die-hard dolphin fan.
Aside from going out on the inflatable each day, we were granted a significant amount of free time which, for me was mainly devoted to napping. However, I was pleasantly surprised by all the other little activities made available to us by this quaint town. Aside from sleeping, I had the option of taking walks to mini island, grabbing a beer or coffee with the other volunteers or just plain lazing about on the beach. I got a wicked nice tan if I do say so myself. Aside from that I would like to say that this situation is quite neat. The other volunteers, Marie, Laura and Rory and Christina, Joan’s research assistant, are amazingly nice and are here for the same reason I am; to learn about dolphins in their natural habitat and the threats the oceans face (Joan can answer any question posed to him), and just enjoy my time doing something I love in a fantastic environment.
I also want to throw out there that in the past twenty days (for me), I’ve eaten some of the best food in my life. As well as experienced the best coffee. After each little excursion, as I’m sure others have been privee to, we stopped for coffee at the same restaurant where Joan knows everyone and had the fabulous cafe freddo. And no offense to the dolphins as they are majestic creatures, but the coffee, I believe is a note worth ending on.