The Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade has been the landmark fall activity in the region for over 25 years. Every first week of September dozens volunteers gather in Pomorie to work for improving birds habitats. This time, we learned and shared a lot by activating the power of informal volunteering. With my interactive game through Facebook and Instagram, we informed over 500 people in 5 countries about our activities.

Mapping sustainable holidays in Bulgaria

I was lucky enough to twice participate in the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade, in 2020 and 2021. And the Brigade is part of my project ‘Mapping Sustainable Holidays in Bulgaria: Combine Volunteering and Vacations!’ partly funded by the Bulgarian Fund for Women.

The ‘Mapping Sustainable holidays in Bulgaria’ is my 2-year ethnographic study that consists of articles, lectures and a book. With this project, I aim to promote volunteering in Bulgaria as a meaningful pastime and a tool for personal growth and development and, at the same time, I want to support volunteers by offering them practical workshops.

With my ethnographic study, I have researched 5 eco-friendly educational projects related to birding in different Bulgarian regions – Pomorie, Burgas, Stara Zagora, Durankulak and Sofia. I personally participated in all the events which I analyze by applying the sociological and ethnographic methods: participatory action research, field research, participant observation, interview, etc..

You can read my previous posts on the topic on my blog. Among the recent most popular writing pieces are my initiative of adopting 4 wild birds at the Wildlife Rescue Centre, Stara Zagora and my lecture about Bulgarian ecological initiatives in Moclín, Spain in the context of youth exchange Erasmus +.

At the final stage of my ethnographic study, July – December 2021, I won a grant from Bulgarian Fund for Women. It allowed me to organize more lectures and workshops in the context of the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade and reward the volunteers with prizes. Moreover, the grant partially covered the travel expenses necessary for exploring the volunteer projects.

I believe the chosen 5 Bulgarian eco-initiatives deserve wide public attention because they were inspired by a powerful but underestimated Bulgarian ecological social movement of the 1980s. At that time, Bulgarian ornithologists attempted the first field studies with the members of the general public. Those activities bore some elements of popular now participatory action research that involved different social groups in scientific research. Now the strong volunteer networks and vacations have a potential to fuel new social initiatives in Bulgaria and support the post-pandemic urban regeneration.

It all began over 30 years ago with launching in Burgas region the two oldest Bulgarian volunteer vacations linked to bird watching.

With this post, I begin a new series of articles about eco-friendly educational Bulgarian projects related to bird-watching. In January 2022, I will present an e-book the guide to sustainable vacations in Bulgaria (in Bulgarian and English).

The goals of my ethnographic study are to promote the chosen eco-projects and support the volunteers and ecological organizations by together discovering new opportunities for the further development.

It’s possible by activating informal volunteering or cultural capital when people in addition to the main volunteer tasks, do more work to facilitate communication between each other, promote the projects on social media and learn new skills that they reflect on their CV.

The development of new skills is particularly important now in the post-COVID world which creates many new virtual realities and a quick understanding of their rules will determine the success or failures of many causes. The key component of this game is to connect as many people of different social groups as possible.

For this to happen, volunteers should support each other by activating their talents and special skills. With our game #рибарка2021 in the framework of the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade 2021 we made the first attempt to see how it worked in reality. You can read the details below in the section Playing while working: #рибарка2021.

Continuing a good tradition by Green Balkans

What is the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade? It is a part of a conservation initiative by Green Balkans, a leading conservational organization in Bulgaria. The project is devoted to the restoration of sandwich terns’ colony in Pomorie and the support of their habitat concentrated mainly on an artificial island of Pomorie Lake.

Since 1996, the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade has been uniting nature lovers on a September vacation by Pomorie Lake, a part of the second largest bird migration route in Europe – Via Pontica.

This year over 30 volunteers participated in the Brigade. The youngest was 7 years old, and the oldest was 57. Everyone combined work, learning and entertainment by attending various workshops devoted to different species. The first one was about monitoring of bats by Anelia Pavlova, an ecologist, Green Balkans (in a red helmet in the images below).

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  • pomorie lake volunteer brigade 7 year yavor
  • pomorie lake volunteer brigade 7 year yavor 1 1

The Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade is part of the project LIFE19 NAT/BG/000804 Life For Pomorie Lagoon.

For one week, our main duty was to restore a washed-up artificial island where hundreds of sandwich terns rest and breed. In a live chain, we transferred buckets with the substance from the bottom of the lake to the island and created a new wooden fence to protect the renovated island from waves.

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A live chain of the Pomorie Lake volunteer Brigade 2021
Image: Polia Ruseva

The sandwich tern is a gull-like bird coloured grey above, white bellow with a distinctive black cap on the head.

sandwich tern
The Sandwich Tern
Image: Green Balkans

This species breeds in dense colonies. They don’t build traditional nests and usually lay their eggs on the sand or ground. To protect themselves from predators, the birds choose more aggressive feathered neighbours, like gulls.

With a long-lasting conservation programme and volunteer support, Green Balkans restored the sandwich tern colony in Pomorie from 6 pairs in 1996 to 1500 pairs in 2009. One of the most impressive ecological successes in the modern history of Bulgaria!

sandwich terns pomorie
A colony of sandwich terns in Pomorie
Image: Green Balkans

It was possible due to two newly-created artificial islands on Pomorie Lake. However, every year waves destroy them. And every September, volunteers come to Pomorie to maintain the birds’ habitat.

Documenting a sensation – a new bird for Bulgaria

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The Great Knot spotted in Bulgaria for the first time by Nikolai Kolev Image: Nikolai Kolev

Birdwatching is the main bonus for the participants of the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade.

And it’s great to do it with knowledgeable birders such as Nikolai Kolev, a known Bulgarian eco-activist whose systematic observations make part of studies of many Bulgarian ecological organizations (Green Balkans, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), etc.). 

This year one of Nikolay’s observations has become a true sensation and sparked numerous discussions in social media birdwatching groups.

He photographed and shared some images of the great knot.

Previously, the bird hadn’t been registered in Bulgaria. The species nests in Siberia and migrates to Australia, Southeast Asia and the Arabian peninsula.

The discovery is an indicator of changing bird migration patterns and promises more ornithological findings.

Learning to provide first aid to birds: 7 tips

Kristina Klisurova, Green Balkans explains how to behave with a founded bird
Video: Stefan Ivanov

In addition to working and birdwatching, at this year’s Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade we had 7 lectures by ecologists. One of the most useful was a presentation on what to do with spotted wounded wild birds by Kristina Klisurova, a vet of Green Balkans Wildlife Rescue Centre, Stara Zagora. She shared helpful suggestions:

1 Before catching a bird, prepare a container.
2 Cover the bird with a light towel.
3 Warm the bird. 
4 Call the Wildlife Rescue Centre to inform about the finding 042607741, 086570053, 0885228486 and 0884877544.
5 Not feed the bird. 
6 Not treat it.
7 Try to deliver the bird to the centre as soon as possible.

The two more interesting talks at the Brigade related to mixed arts and creative consumption.

From Anelia Pavlova, an ecologist by Green Balkans, we learned about the links between photography and nature expressed in a newly-opened exhibition at the Pomorie Lake Centre – Natura 2000 in Bulgaria. Incredibly beautiful images with very curious facts about dozens of distinct species! You can still visit the display every day from 10.00 to 18.00. 

natura 2000

Another memorable lecture was by Radostina Cenova (below), an ecologist of the Bulgarian Biodiversity Fondation. She told us about the products inspired by the salty Burgas Lakes – the milk chocolate Gayo with salt, the soap Lagoon and the Natural Black Sea Salt. 

gayo bfb

Playing while working: #рибарка2021

During my two presentations on communication and networking for ecological projects, we activated the power of informal volunteering by using our creativity. Namely, we explored new meanings and benefits the Pomorie Lake Brigade offers to the volunteers: learning new communication skills while promoting the activities of the project, expanding personal network and involving more people in ecological initiatives.

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My presentation on interactive communication: create new opportunities within the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade!
Image-selfy: Anelia Pavlova

The Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade is a very prestigious educational and entertaining project. It provides its participants with professional benefits too, and they should be properly reflected on the CV. This point was one of the topics of my presentation related to the strengthening of the volunteer network. We picked the right phrases for CV.

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To see how it all worked, I offered the volunteers to join a competition and share different Facebook and Instagram posts about the Brigade’s activities using the hashtags #рибарка2021 or #рибарки2021. By playing, we learned to communicate, involve more people and reflect our experiences on CV.

The idea was to promote the project by reaching more people from different social groups and learn to support each other while working on the common cause.

Everyone has a different user experience on social media, and it’s essential to assist each other by sharing posts, adding comments and more hashtags to link the message to the place and the organization, respectively Pomorie and Green Balkans in our case. In this way, we strengthen and extend our network.

Overall, 8 volunteers participated in the #рибарка2021 game. For one week, we reached over 500 people in 5 countries (Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Turkey and Ukraine). And these numbers are still growing!

At the end of the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade, I chose the winners in 3 categories: the Most Creative Communication Campaign – Maria Mitkova, the Most Supportive Communication Campaign – Nikolay Kolev and the Most Comprehensive Communication Campaign – Stefan Ivanov. They produced and shared most of the posts.

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Me congratulating the winner in the category the Most Creative Communication Campaign – Maria Mitkova (left) Image: Viky Kirilova

Each winner has their own style of communication. While Maria prepared daily reports about our activities, Nikolai and Stefan reflected on the highlights of our actions. For instance, the jubilee 150th stick of the new fence 🙂

I believe that such diverse creative voices united in a common effort are a powerful force to reach people from different cultural and social backgrounds. Additionally, such informal volunteering is the best facilitator of communication and networking that both fuel new opportunities.

Reflecting the symbol of the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade on magnets 

All the participants of the game #рибарка2021 got nice prizes – badges with birds and specially created anniversary magnets devoted to the symbol of the Brigade – a kite.

This a post-stamp-like magnet is a result of my collaboration with Jana Ivanova, a designer and maker of Kotlen carpets, and Yaroslava Bykova, an illustrator and puppet-maker
Image: Tatyana Garkavaya

The Brigade got the informal symbol last year. The idea belongs to our veteran-volunteer Stefan Ivanov, who joined the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade from the first year of its existence in 1996.

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September 2020: Stefan Ivanov found a kite in litter and proposed it to be a symbol of the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade
Image: Tatyana Garkavaya

While gathering litter during last year Brigade, Stefan suddenly spotted an absolutely functional kite, launched it and claimed: ‘Let it be the symbol of our Brigade!’. Later he found another ‘functional’ piece of rubbish which he gave me as a souvenir from the Brigade which I still keep:) Learn more details about this memorable story from my last year’s post.

Interestingly, Stefan’s idea later inspired the logo of my blog – a person launching a kite. And it perfectly reflects the motto of my blog ‘Share Ideas & Inspire Changes!’.

This year, I decided to create beautiful magnets – a stylized post stamp documenting the launch of the kite.
The design is a creative collaboration between me, Jana Ivanova, a designer and maker of Kotlen carpets, and Yaroslava Bykova, an illustrator and puppet-maker. 

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Enhancing the volunteer network: my second presentation at the Pomorie Lake volunteer Brigade 2021
Image: Viky Kirilova

I used the idea of the post stamp to highlight the valuable contribution of Stefan to the history of the Brigade. Post stamps add value to any message. Additionally, only meaningful historical events decorate stamps.

And inspiring examples, like one by Stefan Ivanov, should be celebrated and reminded all the time. It’s how the positive grassroots experiences are enhanced, shared and gradually institutionalized.

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The Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade 2021
Image: Polia Ruseva

Join us at the Pomorie Lake Volunteer Brigade next year! Begin your journey with Green Balkans Facebook group.