Turtles, Stars, Sand and Sea

Turtles, Stars, Sand and Sea

_TSL6105In the dark of the night a faint glow emitted from the snow-white sand. From a celestial or mundane source? It was difficult to say from whence that light came. But that dim light allowed us to see the expanding dark spot in the center of the nest….Sea turtles arising from the depths of Mother Earth.

sunriseOn the sea turtle patrol walk Sunday morning I listened and heard a 15 cascade and crawling with the stethoscope. A cascade or waterfall is a sound produced when sand fills in the space where an occupied egg was. When hatchlings break free of eggs, the rubbery shell collapses and sand fills it as babies crawl up.

How do they know to crawl  up? It’s dark underground. Perhaps its the air flow…but that’s at least 12 inches above the eggs…maybe as deep as 24 inches. A mystery.

Team members who listened throughout the day heard sounds of hatching and crawling. When I arrived a little after 7 pm last night, my teammate Cathy said they were busy with the sounds we like to hear–cascades. Those cascades….those contractions of labor…indicate potential hatching.

At one point, I knelt down inside the tarp to listen with the scope and centered myself. As they worked beneath the sand, I envisioned a wave of love surrounding them, protecting them. I also sent a message with my thoughts….there’s a LOT of rain coming. If you’re ready to hatch this would be the perfect evening. It’s dark, the sand is fluffy and easy to crawl in and people are here to make sure you make it safely to the water….but it’s up to you sweet friends.

I listened again to the nest a little before 10pm and heard almost constant cascades after Cathy and I had heard shallow, loud cascades and deep, quieter cascades all evening. This indicated to me that the entire nest was working, not just a few turtles. When I heard non-stop, loud cascades I let other team members know our babies were about to make an appearance. A quick check with the red light showed a large V-shaped depression in the sand…another sign of eminent hatching.

turtleOver the next two hours one dark spot…a nose, perhaps breathing the first breath of unobstructed, fresh air…became two, three…four….too many to count. Finally, in the very dim light we saw a slowly-growing darkness. The visitors, excited by the possible hatching, probably began to doubt us. We would relay the visuals…”there’s a dark blob…sea turtles are coming”…thirty minutes later….”the dark spot is getting bigger…think it’s gonna be a boil”…..thirty minutes later….”I know you don’t believe us but it looks like they are waiting to come together, it’s gonna be a boil”….thirty minutes later. And so on.

Kids got tired. Some folks gave up and went back to their beach homes. Who in their right mind would sit on a beach waiting for something that may not happen? Those of us that volunteer know what that slow-growing dark spot is and what will happen…at some point…maybe hours later….but we know….we know.

On one of my checks I knelt to the side of the light-shielding tarp and listened with only my senses. Ever so softly I heard their chirping. I had heard this through the stethoscope before but never when they were on the surface. The chirping is their way of communicating with each other while in their eggs. As the gathering of hatchlings reached over a foot in diameter and their bodies could be seen layered on top of each other, they chirped softly to each other. What were they saying? Was it encouragement? A gathering of siblings. So sweet was that faint sound….so precious. Tears form as I write this hours later, reflecting on the miracle of sea turtles…of all life.

On my last check at the nest before they were born, I knelt once again outside the tarp and could hear the boiling sound of sea turtle hatchlings crawling over each other and erupting in one massive contraction to the star-lit air. Bioluminescence illuminated the waves as they rolled onto shore welcoming the babies. Stars peeked through the clouds. A soft wind wrapped around all those human souls who stayed to witness the birth of 105 sea turtle souls into the sea.

Could this mama imagine the babies that would emerge? Photograph of a sea turtle release after rehab. Photo taken with permission by USFW under conditions that do not harm sea turtles.
Could this mama imagine the babies that would emerge? Photograph of a sea turtle release after rehab. Photo taken with permission by USFW under conditions that do not harm sea turtles.

I minded the nest as Cathy, Nancy, Rick, Matt and Jim observed the beautiful transformation of little earthlings to sea beings that, with good fortune, will return in 20 years or so lay their own nests.

After the parade of active babies made their way to the Gulf, I listened once again to a cascade and scratching. Another baby was working to make its way up and out into the night, into a future made brighter by the work Share the Beach volunteers do to give our sea turtle friends a chance at survival.


Female sea turtle crawl
Female sea turtle crawl

Share the Beach was started because hatchlings were consistently crawling toward porch lights and street lights rather than the sea. We walk the beaches of Alabama May 1st to September 1st looking for female sea turtle tracks. The tracks lead us to nests which we mark and get a GPS coordinates and other data. Around 50 days later (it varies dependent on heat/moisture) hatchlings begin to hatch under the sand. We then erect black tarps to help with disorientation from artificial light sources. It takes three or four days for babies to crawl through sand and empty egg shells to the surface. We monitor nests with stethoscopes and look for visual changes in the surface often. At night, the usual time for loggerheads to hatch, we attend the nests for as long as they are active. Sometimes visitors to our beaches get to observe the amazing sea turtle boils. If you are staying at the beach please be mindful of a few things: Please turn off all porch lights and keep indoor lightning low; don’t use bright flashlights around nests that are tarped and never when hatchlings are present or about to hatch…this is disorienting to the turtles and draws predators to the hatching area; remain respectful of the hard work turtles are doing to be born and keep horseplay to a minimum and noise levels low. 

_TSL5639Special note from last night’s hatching….thank you Cathy, Nancy, Rick, Jim and Matt for such awesome teamwork! And to our visitors who helped us hold a space of respect and love for the hatchlings….THANK YOU! And….to those precious babies who lit up our night and our hearts….thank you for reminding us of the sacred cycles of life, the wisdom of our instincts and the ability to care and love beyond ourselves.

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