Almost four years ago the College of Charleston Center for Civic Engagement partnered with Earth, Sea, & Sky (ESS) located in Zakynthos, Greece through our Alternative Break Program. (Find out more about that here) In the past four years I have seen students so impacted by the experience that they return to Charleston and change their majors, minors, jobs, goals, minds, and for some, quite literally their whole life trajectory.
The natural beauty of Zakynthos attracts many tourists during the summer. (An estimated 40,000 visitors from all over the world come to the island each summer.) Of course many challenges arise from such an increased population; traffic, pollution, noise, and exponential increased waste, just to name a few. Although tourism is more profitable than traditional industries, its exploitation is detrimental to the countryside and wildlife. There are large amounts of litter being dumped on beaches and in the forests, and the increased hunting is endangering migrating birds. The Loggerhead Sea Turtle and Mediterranean Monk Seal’s habitats are now completely overwhelmed, and people and development continue to impede on their habitats. Earth, Sea & Sky was established in 1993 by Yannis Vardakastanis who became a full-time conservationist in 1991 and has been steadily working to protect the Caretta Caretta Turtles and marine life in and around the island.
The original aim of our service project was to show how conservation and sustainable tourism can work together to benefit tourists, the locals, and wildlife and play an important role in helping to safeguard the future of the Caretta Caretta turtles by helping to provide educational information to tourists and locals. However, it has become much more than that as our students have had the opportunity to begin to understand the complexity of issues involved in balancing environmental concerns in times of economic crisis. Students have the opportunity to participate in meaningful direct service as well as contemplative discussion with the organization’s staff that allows them to experience and understand the social issues at a much deeper level than they ever could in the classroom.
As we continue to work to deepen our partnership with ESS, the Center for Civic Engagement was fortunate to host both Yannis Vardakastanis and project manager, Jonna Hrab Pedersen in Charleston this past March. Yannis and Jonna had the opportunity to meet with staff from the SC Aquarium, SC Department of Natural Resources, CofC professors and students and even had a chance to visit two east coast rescue centers. Over the last few years Earth, Sea & Sky has been raising funds to build a Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Station in Zakynthos so being able to see firsthand the staff and equipment that will be necessary to do this is a crucial step towards completing that goal.
Our trip to South Carolina has been a very good and educational experience. Meeting the students from the College of Charleston and the people working with sea turtles in the area has been amazing. We can now see light at the end of the tunnel and we go back to Greece with hope. Hope is a powerful thing that we have been surviving without for a while. We are amazed with the efforts the Stephanie Visser and her students are putting into conservation and we are pleased to be a part of that. Keep up the good work and we hope to see more of CofC in Greece soon.
We will continue to expand this partnership in mutually beneficial ways and in the future continue to have volunteers, researchers, and interns coming from the College of Charleston to work alongside Earth, Sea, & Sky’s efforts. Are you ready to let yourself be changed? Let us know if you are interested in volunteering as an individual or applying to participate in our Maymester 2016 trip to Zakynthos.