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Trip to Greece is eye-opener for MHS graduate
While exploring the territory of Giannitsochori, Greece, Maddie Kallgren poses with a view of Kaparissia Bay behind her. (Photo supplied)
MONROE - Maddie Kallgren has been involved in academics, athletics and the community during her years at Monroe High School.

Soccer games, volunteering at Monroe Clinic and giving a rousing speech during her graduation ceremony in May have been memorable moments for the 18-year-old Albany native to keep, but after traveling to Greece to help defend an endangered species along beaches of the Mediterranean, Kallgren noted how a change in location and purpose can be a unique learning experience.

The chance to travel to the white sand beaches of Giannitsochori was given to Kallgren after the recent graduate was awarded the AFS Global Prep Scholarship in February. Kallgren was posed with a choice of where to travel.

"Most were tourist-like trips," Kallgren said. "You know, go live in a place as an exchange student. I didn't really want to do that because I felt like doing volunteer work would be a good way to spend my summer."

Despite her commitment to learning about a new culture through volunteerism, Kallgren was fairly disinterested in loggerhead sea turtles, the species she was traveling to Greece to help, before she left. However, she dug in with seven fellow volunteers and worked throughout the two-week excursion to track and build protection for the endangered sea turtles' eggs.

The journey began in New York City, where the group members met and traveled together to Athens, Greece. Staff conducted an orientation to help everyone understand their purpose during the trip and the first few days allowed for group members to explore the area. Then the work began.

Kallgren camped a short distance from the beach. Each day consisted of early mornings, rising at 6 a.m. to look for turtle tracks made in the sand when the animals came out of the water and on to the beach to lay eggs. Working until noon, the volunteers would dig by hand to find where the eggs had been laid. Once they located the egg chamber, Kallgren said they would note coordinates, take measurements and build grids made of metal and locally-sourced bamboo to protect the eggs from dogs wandering along the sand or careless humans in the area.

Kallgren said the "trip for nature lovers" was a way to explore new territory.

"It was a great opportunity to be out on the beach and see the stars," Kallgren said. "It was difficult work, but now I have greater knowledge of sea turtles. It was really focused on conservation. When we throw away our stuff we don't realize the negative effect it has on animals."

On other days, the group would switch from day work to night. Turtles would emerge from the tide under darkness to lay their eggs. From 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., Kallgren and fellow volunteers watched as the loggerheads began emerging from the water. Once the turtles were out of the bay, volunteers were able to tag the female turtles. Every step they took was to ensure the circle of life continued for the endangered loggerheads.