Turtle Season

We live exactly 1,300 feet from the shore, according to the insurance statistic keepers.  These things are crucial to know, I suppose, when one is writing a policy for a home in a hurricane-vulnerable region.  I mention this not to bring up the coming of hurricane season (hate hate hate all of that)…but to highlight our proximity to the beach for a really cool reason.

Sea turtles.

We happen to live in the neighborhood of one of the many Beaches Sea Turtle patrol volunteers.  For probably twenty years X has been patrolling our coastline every day.  In sea turtle nesting season he is logging up to 20 miles an outing, a couple of times a day.  He can spot when a loggerhead or other turtle has lumbered onto the shore to lay her hundred-plus eggs, bury them deeply, then returns to the sea.  So when his practiced eye spots a new nest, he erects a bright orange plastic netting to protect it, numbers the nest so its gestation period can be monitored. He also tacks the appropriate warning about not disturbing the nest or risk legal penalty, along with rules for human behavior on the beach and near the nest during turtle nesting season, which begins May 1 and ends in October. No flashlights are to be shined on the nest, no flash photography, beachfront residences are asked to darken their windows during the nesting season as well. 

Sea turtles are on the endangered species list.  If there is light shined on them or nearby when they are hatching it confuses them, as they are drawn toward the light, when they need to be drawn toward the sea.  Presumably they’d follow the moonlight to the water and make it in, their first brush with human obstacle and other predators thus evaded.  Once in the water they still have to overcome many deterrents to their reaching maturity and procreating, all of which can be Googled and read in greater detail than I feel like going into now.  The point of my lengthy preamble here is to report:

 Today, the very first turtle nest of the 2009 season was noted and tagged!  
The patrol used to tag the nest with the approximate dates of hatching, they said, but it became such a party around the nest – people showing up night after night (they usually hatch at dusk or so), cocktails and beach chairs, and of course you know that so many people won’t go anywhere without the dog… – that they felt a more subdued ambiance would be better for the hatchlings.

So…just a few of us who might happen to be ‘in the know’ (because we live at the beach and can guesstimate for ourselves a nest’s hatching due date) might monitor the nest at the end of its gestational period. I found myself ‘in the know’ late last summer, about a particular nest right at the edge of our beach walkway.  I, and a few others, showed up night after night, training our eyes on the sand within the orange netting…looking for any changes in the sandscape that would suggest the turtles had hatched and were on there way from within their deep hole, to the surface.

When the turtles are just beneath the surface and about ready to erupt, the sand will start to ‘bubble’.  Watching closely then, you can see it move…a little bit…hey, there it goes again…and…oh my god, it’s really happening…!

I was lucky, so lucky that night last summer when I arrived on the beach with my little daughter and our little neighbor, to check on the nest.  For there, nearly at the moment of our arrival…came the bubbling of the sand and the emergence of 103 small, crawling, endangered sea turtles!  Yikes, we were so thrilled.  It was really getting dark so we had to keep our eyes focused but there they were, these lovely, prized little creatures, crawling, alive, from their turtle nest and now toddling doggedly toward the sea.  It was low tide, so they had a long way to go, with the three of us prancing about the sand, to ensure that each little one made it safely to the water.

And we three were the only witnesses of this rare event.

(unhatched egg & egg shells left behind)

A couple of days later, the Sea Turtle Patrol will swing by in its sturdy little beach patrol car and comb through the sand to count the number of shells left behind.  They ensure all have hatched and report that number to the State of Florida.  This nest had 103 live turtles, and one egg (above) unhatched.

I happened to be lounging on the beach near the nest when the volunteers showed up to do their post-mortem process.  I photographed them, but was told in no uncertain terms: “Don’t put us on the Internet.”

“But it’s just my blog.  No one reads it,” I offered.  I had some great video too.  I was mightily impressed by their work.  

“I don’t want to be on the Internet,” I was told again again, tersely, barely looking up from their work.  I’ll call them  X, both of them. They’re both well into their seventies, and were on their hands and knees with rubber-gloved hands, combing through the sand and counting the shells.  

Which are soft, by the way.  

The Xs have been involved in Sea Turtle volunteer work for years and while they’ve turned over the management of the entire organization to a younger crew several years ago, they are still out there, patrolling, too, along with the other volunteers who care so deeply about this species.  I see them zip in and out of the neighborhood in the beach patrol car
but I’d never seen them actually at work.  Digging through the sand on a very hot day.  I’d lived on their street for eight years, and never really appreciated their labors. My girls know them very well as they scamper over to their house practically every day after school and come home with treats like hand-knitted flip flop decorations or sea turtle fact-and-coloring books. But having seen what they do, just when a nest has hatched, I am mightily impressed. I’m thankful for their efforts to give these mighty creatures now endangered, who start out as vulnerable hatchlings, a fighting chance.  You see, if a turtle makes it to maturity and reproduces, she returns to the beach she was born on to lay her own eggs.  Amazing!  Another wonderful reason to appreciate atlantic beachlife.

And so it begins again, the 2009 season.  I’ll be watching this nest…

The website for more information is visible in one of the photos, above.  See, I did that, on purpose.  Maybe Rosie, or my sister, or Uncle Paul or my cousin Maria, you know, my readership, will be interested enough to check out the work of the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol.

If any of you have read this far.

I asked my husband if he ever read the blog and he said, “yes,” in  his false voice.  I challenged him, and then he admitted, “but it’s so long.”


  1. Rosie says:

    My husband says that on occasion(twice!) he has looked at my blog. He says that I have a lot to say about nothing!

    I want to come and be your neighbor!

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