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!

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