11 July 2009

The day I arrived in Galaxidi

For the first time in my life, I'm speechless. I have so many stories that I want to share, but I really don't know where to start. In fact, I could write 10 pages about this trip, and still that would only cover 5% of the entire journey. Being part of the dolphin conservation course for five weeks has been more than I had ever anticipated. This course in the beautiful village of Galaxidi is not just another volunteer programme: it's a complete package filled with education, experiences, social analyses, bust most of all lots of fun.

The day I arrived in Galaxidi I knew almost instantly that this village would leave a positive memory behind. The shops, the friendly people and the harbor with all the bars and restaurants... a small paradise in Greece tucked away in a small bay, yet to be found by the mass tourism. But it was when I met the other volunteers that I knew this would prove to be something special. No cheesy grins, no awkward silences: we chatted as if we knew each other for years. And that was only the first day! When Silvia came to pick us up, all of us had the feeling the adventure had just started.
And an adventure it became. Being on a small boat 5 days a week, searching the Korinthian Gulf for dolphins, never knowing what you might face.

The sea can be as unpredictable as its inhabitants. But the moment you spot a group of dolphins, there is a shared boost of adrenaline, excitement and joy between the volunteers and the staff. I can't really describe the feeling you get when you see a group of dolphins jumping out of the water, but it is something I will remember for the rest of my life. You can literally sit and look at them for hours, you never get bored of them. Dolphins are such beautiful creatures: active, enjoyable, wild. They are almost like humans. I remember a striped dolphin juvenile in the middle of the group. All of a sudden, it came straight towards us. Not knowing any fear, he approached our boat like a racing car. And just when our mouth fell open, an older striped dolphin cut in front of him, forcing the juvenile to take a hard turn to the right. Perplexed by the speed of the action, we were also amazed by the protectionism that keeps the young in place. However, the older dolphins don't mind getting close and we were enjoying every minute with them. I also recall a group of approximately 30 dolphins. We were surrounded by them, and they were getting so close to us, all jumping over each other, that at a certain point one of the dolphins hit the boat. There were so many dolphins around: the only way he could go was towards us.

One of the things I really likes about this project was the shared feeling of discovery between the volunteers and the staff. This project in Galaxidi is relatively new and all the things that we learned and saw were new to the researchers as well. I'm proud to have sighted the very first striped and common dolphins with Silvia, Aina and Tilen. Every day we could learn something about the area: the adding of a new transect, a mighty storm (you are a damn good captain Silvia!) or the encounter with a sea turtle. Probably the most amazing and intense moment during my long stay was when our group came across a large sea turtle trapped in the remains of a fishing net, that was rescued by our team until he was able to dive and swim way.

Although rescuing the sea turtle was one of my favourite moments, when you think about it it’s actually a sad example of how we humans are exploiting and destroying the planet. This is where the education part of this project kicks in. Watching movies about overfishing and waste production just puts everything in perspective. We came to understand how overfishing affects the food web, causing a decrease in the dolphin population. We humans are linked to the dolphins. That is why we need to stop consuming ever more stuff and save the natural resources that are left, protecting and cherishing them rather than taking them for granted. I remember multiple discussions with other volunteers after watching documentaries on Giovanni's computer. Talking about how waste is handled in our countries etc. These discussions may seem meaningless to many, but the team of Tethys knows that we have the ability to spread the word about environmental issues and affect our own community.

The dolphin conservation project in Galaxidi just isn’t a 'dolphin watching' programme. We don't go out on a boat just to have a laugh in the middle of the ocean and take hundreds of pictures of jumping dolphins. This is a research project and we aim to see how many common, striped and bottlenose dolphins live in the Korinthian Gulf. We crop and analyse the pictures looking for new individuals. And we also enjoy ourselves, taking crazy photos on the top of the hill and eating good food.

I couldn't wish for a better and nicer team than Silvia, Giovanni and Aina. Without them this project would not have been the same. They are truly friendly, open-minded, funny, but most of all passionate about their work and willing to share their expertise with an ongoing enthusiasm. Thank you so much Silvia for the fun trips we had on the boat and the long chats. Giovannni, thank you for the amazing videos and documentaries you showed to us. The talks and discussions we had with you helped us putting this project and global issues into a perspective. As a journalist, I truly valued these conversations. And finally, Aina - my precious! You are the sweetest girl I ever met. I wish we could spend some more time together in the future! And thank you to all other volunteers who made this trip unforgettable.

Eddy Roosen, The Netherlands

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