Pretty Work

Pretty Work

_TSL6105I heard the phrase, pretty work, echoing in my fatigued brain as I was crawling into bed at 1am. It was a busy night on the beach. My life coach has used the phrase for as long as I can remember.

What a night!! But this was last week, the night before Hermine brought us high tides and surf….and nothing else. But that’s for later in this tale.

Nest B25 was ready to tarp and I went as a tarp helper and to take photographs of sky and waves. I helped dig the trench and release 17 babies from the previous night that had been in ICU. Magic. Beautiful sea turtle magic.

_TSL6840I was leaving because the nest wasn’t that busy, it was my third night in a row of sea turtle work and three other women were there. But just as I got to the car, my friend got a call that babies were under a house nearby.

Cathy and I ran and met Jan and another seasoned team member. Tourists had found them every freaking where. We didn’t know the source of the turtles. I was putting them in my shirt (basket made from shirt) and they were tickling my belly. We were finding turtles almost to the road. Cathy and I found about 14. Jan found some. Jim did as well. Tourists put about 50 in the water. I tracked and tracked and finally found the nest. Just a little sink hole in the sand almost at waters edge with high surf. I helped Jan excavate it and we had almost a complete boil. And every turtle was within three or four feet of water and they went to house lights. We figure 70 made it to the water.

_TSL6931Stop a moment and think about that. The hatchlings were only a very short distance from the Gulf of Mexico and they chose to go to lights under houses, street lights….every single track went away from the water towards lights…or death. If the tourists had not found them and helped us we would have possibly never known the nest hatched due to rising water from Hermine.

The nest had been marked as a false crawl earlier in the season. That mama surprised us with her ability to conceal her nest among her tracks.

We were leaving that wild experience and got a call that Ken monitoring another nest had turtles emerging. The three of us ran down to B24 and helped oversee the babies journey to the sea. The tide was coming up high. Really high. We broke down part of trench after they boiled due to tide and waves.

SL21HThe next morning brought heartache. I arrived by 6.30am to help with B22 which was flooded. Two teammates and I found 61 perfectly healthy hatchlings with their egg sac completely absorbed (meaning they were ready to swim into the Gulf). Unfortunately they had drowned. We had permission to excavate the nest due to the impending flood and the sounds that had been heard for two to three days prior to the storm (meaning they had hatched and had not emerged from the nest). It was determined that we could wait until the next morning….but it was too late.

SL21DWe know that every turtle counts when a threatened species is involved so a loss like this hurts deeply. And we potentially lost eight nests due to flooding and erosion from the storm…the storm that wasn’t even close to us and produced maybe three drops of rain here. Only three of our remaining eleven nests remained dry and unaffected by the storm. That’s just in our 3 mile stretch of Laguna Key team’s beach.

It has been a record year for sea turtles across the southeast. At the beginning of the season, when we knew the female loggerheads were about to break Alabama’s record, I suspected we would have a storm. Somehow they know.. the mother turtles know. Of course that’s antidotal and biologists might scoff at the connection. But even in just the five season’s I’ve been a sea turtle volunteer I’ve noticed this trend.

SL30AThe day of the storm was exhausting…emotionally and physically. After four hours sleep from the previous night’s wild goings-on, the excavation of the drowned hatchlings and another team member and I surveying a section of beach for nest damage…and getting ‘lost’ due to the rising tide and waves…I was ready to rest. We all were.

SL21J
Searching for hatchlings in a flooded nest.

So many people compliment the work we do. It’s work of our hearts. Not everyone on the team participates at the same level due to work commitments, time constraints or simply lower interest levels. But those of us who are there no matter what, who lose sleep and exhaust ourselves, who wade through nasty, foamy water to dig out dead hatchlings as the waves wash underneath….who get screamed at by local homeowners who can’t grasp the need to walk near their property to access the beach….we cry, we laugh, we save sea turtles, we lose sea turtles….those that stick with it and dedicate themselves to these precious sea friends…we do pretty work. Even though it’s not always pretty.

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