Sea Turtle Wisdom

Sea Turtle Wisdom

Sleepy sea turtle awaiting darkness to begin her crawl to sea.
Sleepy sea turtle awaiting darkness to begin her crawl to sea.

This is my fifth season volunteering in Alabama’s sea turtle program and the magic of sea turtles emerging from over 50 days deep underground has not faded. Their instinctual wisdom continues to amaze me. From the mother returning to her own birth beach over 20 years after her hatching, to the babies knowing to crawl up in darkness to some unknown place…it’s a sacred mystery.

_TSL6139We listen with stethoscopes as they work under the sand. Over twelve inches…up to two feet underground…they work hard to escape. They sleep underground, they rest, they work. A tiny egg sac feeds and hydrates them as they crawl up in darkness. By the time they escape they have used up the egg sac and must reach the sea to secure nourishment.

_TSL6148They reach the surface of the sand. Sometimes they rest there until darkness and then, once it’s night, crawl to the sea….or to light. Our program helps them by shielding artificial light sources such as porch lights and street lights) so they will crawl toward the sea.

_TSL6144Being a volunteer means long evenings on the beach waiting for an event that might not happen for days. So, in their wisdom, sea turtles teach us patience, teach us to wait calmly.

_TSL6159They also remind us of cycles, of returning to that place from which we came…the sand, the sea, waiting, moving forward…infinite patience, infinite wisdom.

All sea turtle photographs taken with permission from USFW under conditions that do not harm sea turtles.

Sea Turtle Mania

Sea Turtle Mania

IMG_4550As I hopped into the car, silver strands of spider webs swirled around me. After an 18 mile bike ride I was headed to help the sea turtle team with our three nests this morning. THREE!

IMG_4556Was on the bike just after 5.30am and enjoying the beautiful sunrise and cool temperature when my phone rang at 6.01am. It was a turtle team friend. She knows to call me before the ALL CALL goes out because I live 20 miles from our Laguna Key team beach. Rather than fumble with it I just let it go to voice mail and continued the ride.

When you are in the back of the state park on a backcountry trail, it’s going to take a while to get back to the car anyway. Why not finish my ride?

The Share the Beach ALL-CALL came in at 6.22am. I had already turned around to head back to the car so I’d check it when I finished riding. But at 6.31am my friend Cathy, who had called me earlier, texted me so I knew something was up. It wasn’t just one nest. Her text read: THREEEE NESTS!

IMG_4532So I forwarded my iPod to Prince and Michael Franti and put the after-burner on full blast. So much for a leisurely pedal back to finish the third day in a row of cycling fun. I texted Cathy: Cycling. Be there in a bit. There is an art to texting and cycling which I don’t recommend.

Back to the car by 7.10am and called to find out their location. Just starting the first nest at the far end of our section. Nice, I thought. By the time I drive from the state park to the beach they will have found eggs at the first nest and I’ll help with the other two. 

IMG_4558Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and in fact our team was split into two groups, each digging to find eggs on two nests within 100 yards of each other. I knew it was bad when I arrived and all I saw was the top of their heads sticking out from the hole. No eggs yet.

I joined in and it took us until 8.30 am to find eggs. The nest was right on the edge of the water and had to be moved by 9am. The other diggers still had no luck with their nest.

You might wonder how we know for sure there are eggs and it’s not just a false crawl. A false crawl is when we have tracks that generally are in and out of the water with no body pit or spray. An indicator of a nest is of course the crawl, an indentation or body pit and sand spray. Both nests had body pits and spray. The other nest was even closer to the water. A high tide would most likely take it out.

IMG_4560Deb found the eggs and ran to help the other group while Jan, one of our team leaders, and I started removing and counting eggs. Meanwhile Ken, the other team leader, went due north of us to dig a hole that would have the same depth and dimensions as the original nest dug by mama turtle.

We finished moving the eggs, putting the predator screen and stakes in place and marking it and headed for the third nest further east. We left the rest of our team trying their best to find eggs before 9am.

Nest three of the day was wonderfully placed by the mother turtle so we only had to find the eggs, not move them. And do all the measurements and GPS readings that we do.

IMG_4562I began digging…by digging I mean carefully using the side of my hand to gently scrap layers of sand somewhere in the spray zone of the nest. Ken and Jan started the measurements of crawl, placement and such. I hadn’t been digging long when the rest of our team showed up and helped. It was getting hot and none of us had eaten breakfast so we were quite anxious to find the eggs, take the GPS reading, erect the protective gadgetry and head home.

This is where the mother turned. Notice her body pit. Spray is to the left.

Every mother turtle has her own, unique way of placing her nests so there isn’t a formula that takes into consideration her crawl in and out of the water, the spray zone or placement of the body pit. Every one is different so that makes finding the eggs a chore.

Another view of the crawl, body pit and spray. Spray is to the left.

Thankfully, I found them within 15 minutes of scooping sand. All of our knees were nearly blistered from kneeling and scooping sand for hours. Also, our team isn’t made up of young adults. We are all middle aged plus so it really takes a team effort to do the work.

This past Sunday we had two nests, yesterday we had two nests and today three. I predict a really bad hurricane along our coast some time late August or early September. These turtles have a way of knowing when to lay their nests. I hope this isn’t the case but we’ve seen it before. Or they know the satellite tag team is about to began their work and they are wanting to avoid the capture and tagging process.

We were exhausted after our morning's work.
We were exhausted after our morning’s work.

About 55 days from now, we will be recruiting volunteers to help us with these nests. We erect black tarps behind and along the side to keep light from the houses and street out, but we really need to be present to make sure they don’t get out and crawl under houses or into the street. Surprise hatchings have yielded this result and it’s sad to see the carnage of baby turtles if they crawl the wrong way out of their nest. Third week of July if you’d like to become a volunteer we can get a free shirt and training for you. The nights sitting out under stars while the Gulf of Mexico laps gently along the shore….it’s just hard to beat. Seeing the tiny turtles in the black out conditions make their way to the water is amazing. Once in a while there is phosphorescence in the sand and their small flippers create little star-bursts of light as they touch the sand. Have I sold you on volunteering yet?

FullSizeRender 3We will have seven nests hatching around the same time. That’s crazy….and there could be more.

You never know what the day will bring. Today it was sea turtle mania. Tomorrow…who knows!

Mystical Predictions

Mystical Predictions

_TSL4466An email came from our team leaders this week about our schedule. I replied to everyone that we were going to have two sea turtle nests to process on Sunday. “Be ready,” I wrote.

_TSL4475Meanwhile it has been a very trying week topped off by one of my darling cat kids waking me at 2:30am this morning. Sleep never returned so I left the house at 4.30am and took my tripod and camera for some long exposure photography at the beach. Why not, I reasoned.

_TSL4503Conditions were near perfect. There was enough surf to give a very silky effect to the 30 second exposures. For half an hour, waiting for light, I stood on the beach and communed with the Ocean Mother while my camera perched on it’s carbon fiber legs soaking up the light and magic that was very present on the Gulf of Mexico this morning.

_TSL4493When it was light enough to see the beach clearly, I ran my tripod back to the car and began the mile and a half walk along the white sand. At 6.15am, 35 minutes after I began my walk, the most wondrous sight appeared.

_TSL4577A most-perfect V crawl and nest pit awaited discovery. I screamed in excitement, “YES!”I turned to the water and said with laughter, “THANK YOU!”Then I quickly fumbled with my phone to call our team leaders. As I was leaving them a message, a message from our All-Call system came in…we had another nest in the upper part of our section of beach. Immediately I remembered my prediction….be ready.

IMG_4518I hurriedly finished the rest of my walk and met up with gathering team members at the first nest. It was called in last night around 9.30pm and was already marked. This was incredibly good because human footprints completely covered the tracks. We would never have discovered it had the tourists not called it in.

We processed the nest, which had to be moved due to close proximity to the water. (Our federal permit gives us permission if the nest is too close to the tide line). But we couldn’t linger as we had nest number two of the day to process.

_TSL4642‘My’ nest had to be moved as well as it was too close to the water’s edge and high tide mark. Several of us dug (scraped carefully) to find the eggs. I found them!! Magic! Pure magic!

It had been a very rough week emotionally and as I stood at the water’s edge photographing at 5am I spoke with the Ocean Mother and shared my heart.  I felt a reply…We all make mistakes. Look…I had something to do with the birthing of __________ (politician). I laughed out loud at the thought. “Yes, I guess none of us are perfect,” I said out loud.

_TSL4578The Ocean Mother gifted me with the delight of her daughter turtle’s nest. At least that’s how I experienced it. When I arrived at the crawl it looked as if the sand had just been turned by her beautiful flippers. The eggs still had the beautiful mother turtle’s fluids fresh and stringy on them as we gently transferred them to their new incubation location, just above the high tide line.

The lesson for me this week has been to face all of who I am…the good, the bad and the ugly. There is a surrender that comes with that choice and in it are little gifts and treasures. Super-grateful for the photographs of the silky sea….which is how I see the energy of the sea…and for the mother loggerhead who gifted me with a perfect crawl and nest…and for the other turtle mother who made my mystical prediction a reality.

Psychic Simone predicts a nap in her very near future.
Psychic Simone predicts a nap in her very near future.

Here’s another prediction….I see myself taking a nap very soon. And I’m contemplating opening a psychic hotline very soon. Details to follow.

Around the Bend….

Around the Bend….

“What I love most about rivers is:
You can’t step in the same river twice
The water’s always changing, always flowing
But people, I guess, can’t live like that
We all must pay a price
To be safe, we lose our chance of ever knowing
What’s around the riverbend
Waiting just around the riverbend”

–Disney’s Pocahontas

IMG_4340The year was 2002. Lots of stressful craziness was happening in my life and without warning I met a man who changed my life for the better. I remember thinking of the song from Pocahontas often. You never know what’s around the river bend. Something wonderful can happen in one moment and life changes forever. 

In April I visited a dear mentor and friend in Atlanta from the UK. She shared how she loves life, even with the aches and pains of an 87 year old, she loves the adventure of life because you never know what’s going to happen that will suddenly change everything for the better. I thought of the Pocahontas song as we chatted.

IMG_4343Today I was on the backcountry trail by 6am. At 6.33am I received a telephone call from our sea turtle team leaders. We have a nest! Of course, I was at the furtherest point from my car on the trail unless I wanted to exit onto the beach road and cycle to the nest location. Since I refuse to ride in traffic, I opted to be safe and head back to my car.

I shaved 10 minutes off the return trip and got an excellent cardio workout. Thankfully it was sprinkling rain which made for a cool ride.

IMG_4353Just barely over 30 minutes from the alert message, I was pulling up at the nest site on west beach. I took a few photographs of the crawl and teammates finishing up processing the nest and then went down to another section of our beach and took a few photographs of a false crawl.

IMG_4356What an amazing surprise to have not only a nest but a false crawl in the same day! And an added bonus was breakfast with a few team members to celebrate our first nest of the year. I expected to simply cycle and return home to paint another Buddy portrait.

FullSizeRenderOn the way home I called my mother to say good morning and found out one of her squirrel friends had crawled inside a feeder yesterday and was still stuck this morning. I made a detour to free the little goober and said a quick hello to mom and Salty dog before getting back to Buddy and the cats.

IMG_4384WOW! A simple dawn cycling trip had turned into a series of surprising events. Isn’t it amazing! It’s true…we never know what’s just around the bend.

“I look once more
Just around the riverbend
Beyond the shore
Somewhere past the sea
Don’t know what for …
Why do all my dreams extend
Just around the riverbend?
Just around the riverbend …”


Working Together

Working Together

IMG_4121-2“Sea turtle nesting season has begun?” the gentleman asked. “Yes. Today’s the first day and isn’t it lovely,” I replied. We conversed a few moments and then he walked east, I walked west and each of us continued our tasks. He with his trash bag and pick-up stick to aid in his cleaning the beach, me  looking for sea turtle tracks with my camera and green Share the Beach shirt that identifies me as a sea turtle volunteer.

_TSL3768What a glorious morning. Not just because of the soft sunrise, gentle breeze and waves pushing on to the shore. For the first time in four years there were no tents, chairs, fishing rods or other entanglement hazards (for wildlife) left on the beach. The new effort by the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach has turned progressively trashed beaches into place that felt welcoming to humans and wildlife. Leave Only Footprints!

_TSL3742As I continued my walk, looking for sea turtle tracks near the wrack line, I thought how wonderful it felt to have so many groups and individuals on board to help our beaches and the wildlife that inhabits them. The US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, volunteers who walk all Alabama coastline from May 1st to September 1st, individuals who use their morning stroll to clean up debris left or washed in by the tide. It takes all of us working together to make it work.

_TSL3754The dunes are building with sea oats that the city planted a couple years ago. These small plants are anchors for small dunes to build in front of the primary dune line. People are working together. It felt like balance returning to our beaches.

This is good news. This is what it takes to make positive change….working together.