Tag: Alabama Coast

Message in a Bottle….#2

Message in a Bottle….#2

_TSL2861Sunrise sea turtle patrols have given so much beauty to me. Amazing colors, painted across vast expanses of salt water and open sky, instill within me such gratitude and peace. Occasionally that sweet peace is hard to access due to vast expanses of trash washed on shore.

_TSL2802This morning was a struggle…it was very humid and over 80 degrees at 5.30am. Trash littered the beach as I walked, looking for sea turtle tracks. The bag I brought was soon full and a plastic bucket was half-way full when I saw a glass bottle floating in a tidal pool. I reached for it and noticed a small, roll of brown paper with writing on it. It was wet but the writing was still readable so I stuck it in the plastic pail and carried it as I completed my walk.

_TSL2831After filling another plastic bucket along the shore, I got permission from tenants at a beach home to dump the trash in their can. The glass bottle remained with me as I walked the mile and a half back to my car.

Breakfast with our sea turtle team lifted my spirits from the sadness I felt from humanity’s apparent lack of concern for our beautiful planet. Good laughter and food helped.

Once home, I uploaded photographs from the morning and then washed sand off the bottle. Carefully I removed the cork and unfolded the saturated paper. The words across the top were…”For Kyle.” This wasn’t going to be like the first message in a bottle I found a couple years ago…one of marital celebration and commitment. No. This was very different. I could feel it as I unrolled the paper.

_TSL2866Both sides were filled with writing and the message of love was so powerfully written. It was a memorial for a man. At first I thought it was in regards to one of the sailors that drowned during the severe storm during the Mobile Bay Regatta. I couldn’t recall the date of that event but the writer mentioned him sailing away on a sailboat. It wasn’t until I completed reading it that I found out what happened.

_TSL2865After completing the first side I turned the note over and found a request for whoever found the bottle to please call or write Kyle’s mother in Kentucky as she loves the beach so much. “Please….if you find this ‘message in a bottle’ please write or call Kyle’s mother. Let her know you found it (and where). Her name is Rhonda. Her son Kyle went to meet the Lord on May 11, 2015. He was a victim of an explosion. He hung on to life for 2 ½ weeks. He was only 27 years old. His mother loves loves loves the sun and beach, so I thought it only fitting to write this message in tribute to him, while on vacation in Orange Beach, Alabama and during the time of his passing. So please….write her a note or give her a call. I’m giving her a framed copy of this ‘message’ so….she’ll be waiting! God Bless You!”

Internet Photograph
Internet Photograph

I did an internet search and found his name and the details of what happened. Kyle Rogers was a distiller in western Kentucky and was severely injured along with his cousin Jay Rogers in an explosion and fire on April 25th. They were both air-lifted to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. After 2 ½ weeks Kyle passed from his body at 5pm on May 11th.

_TSL2860As a writer, there are few times where words escape me but now, as I sit here trying to write something that honors this young man, I find only tears for Kyle’s suffering and loss of life and for his family’s deep loss. I know that each time I walk along the beach at sunrise, searching for mother sea turtle tracks, I will think of Kyle and his family and will say a little prayer that their grief will be healed over time.

SimoneLipscombFrom these beaches each year comes thousands of sea turtle hatchlings that bring hope to an Ocean challenged by many environmental issues. When babies hatch from along our shore later this summer I will remember this young man and his family and will light a candle of hope in my heart for all who suffer.



Can Science, Common Sense & Compassion Co-Exist?

Can Science, Common Sense & Compassion Co-Exist?

IMG_9945The shell was still warm from saltwater. The perfectly formed brown and cream-colored swirls of calcium carbonate dried quickly in my hand. The empty shell was an unexpected gift, a reminder of the beauty and mystery of life in the sea.

I walked eastward in the pre-dawn light searching along the high-tide line for sea turtle tracks. The calm, clear water of the Gulf of Mexico reflected soft, pastel light that illuminated my early-morning walk with exquisite colors that made me yearn for my big Nikon…left behind on this sea turtle patrol.

IMG_9959The only tracks I discovered were those of a four-wheeled type driven by a biologist and crew who have been studying sea turtles in Alabama since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Over the past five years they have satellite tagged, drawn blood samples, conducted DNA tests and other measurable markers on our sea turtles in an effort to study where they feed and live…and probably gather a little data for evidence in the BP Deepwater Horizon legal case.

IMG_9961A report compiled by the Ocean Conservancy in 2014 stated that 1149 sea turtles were collected during the BP oil spill from April 30, 2010 to April 12, 2011. Of those 613 were dead. Out of the total number of sea turtles collected, 809 were Kemps Ridley’s…a highly endangered species. And 481 of those were dead. “Tens of thousands of sea turtles were located in coastal waters within the surface oil extent and were exposed to oil.” There were 278 sea turtle nests relocated from the Northern Gulf Coast that produced 14,700 hatchlings.

SimoneLipscomb (1)So there is a need to study sea turtles in our area and while the study sounds great, there are some things to consider. First, the satellite tags are attached to the shell with epoxy which gets quite hot as it hardens. There are nerve endings in the shell or carapace so sea turtles so they actually feel the burning of the epoxy as it hardens. When a female has completed her exhausting nesting process–heaving her 350 pound body out of the water and crawling in soft sand, digging a hole with her rear flippers, laying maybe 120 eggs, covering the hole and crawling back towards the water–she is corralled by two-legged beings, ‘burned’ with epoxy, poked with needles and held captive until the ‘glue’ hardens and the scientists have everything they need from her. Then she is released and must crawl back into the water…after being exhausted from nesting and ‘harassment’ by the team.

Harassment, in terms of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is any human-generated behavior that causes a wild animal to change his or her behavior…including feeding, watering, touching, chasing, injuring, changing habitat, etc.

SimoneLipscomb (5)No matter how much good the data does the scientists…or sea turtles…it is a very stressful process for the mother turtles.

According to a report released by the biologist, they have tagged 59 females (that’s perhaps 15% of the Northern Gulf of Mexico population…a large sample for scientists). They concluded that one-third of the small and declining population live year-round in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. They want to continue tracking and studying sea turtles to test whether they revisit the same feeding areas and this gives new possibilities for management and conversation practices.

What if 15% of the total population…the tagged turtles…. are in some way damaged from the very process that is supposed to help the species? How many tagged sea turtles is enough? How much data is enough?

SimoneLipscomb (6)I have attended two of the debriefings done by the scientists after their tagging season here and saw how the data and the drive for more data seemed to overshadow the species they intend to protect. Watching the scientists light up when describing numbers or capturing male loggerheads by jumping on their backs while the turtles are swimming… bothered me. Is collection of data the prize, the goal? How does long-term concern of the individually tagged animals enter into the equation? It’s easy for humans to say, it doesn’t hurt the turtles, but where is long-term research and evidence to back-up that statement?

The government won’t take action against business unless there are very specific and detailed data showing how the species is being harmed from corporate functions (fossil fuel industry as one example, commercial fisheries is another). So scientists have to focus on numbers…the only thing the government seems to understand….or maybe the only thing scientists understand. It could be very easy to lose track of the health of individual animals while wanting to save an entire species. But this only supposition on my part.

SimoneLipscomb (4)For many years I have volunteered with wildlife biologists and most are very dedicated, caring individuals. I have had discussions with some of them about the issues addressed in this commentary. I hope they can understand how their actions might look to those of motivated to act solely out of compassion and love.

Weather in which northern flying squirrels are removed from nesting boxes and processed for data
Weather in which northern flying squirrels are removed from nesting boxes and processed for data

Waking an endangered northern flying squirrel in the high altitudes of the Blue Ridge Mountains during intense cold to weigh them, measure their back leg and tag them seems edgy. But they must have their numbers to justify continued endangered status. I assisted with this research and it bothered me because it seemed to endanger an endangered species…to collect data to justify its status as endangered. (Twisted??)

Sea turtles here in Alabama have been poked, prodded, tagged now for the past several years. Can’t they just be left to nest in peace? But no, numbers are needed…more, more, more numbers.

While earning my undergraduate degree at Auburn University I took a wildlife conservation class and learned the history of this endeavor. Science has evolved through the years and thankfully moved to a more compassionate way of studying species, but I think it has a long way to go.

My theory: Scientists become hyper-focused on numbers and data because that’s the only way they can get the money to fund more studies to prove to the government that the species is endangered, threatened or healthy. I can imagine that their original intention to help wildlife must become a frustration to them as they have to work within a broken system focused on money, money…money.

Last night I was reading a chapter in a book by Jim Nollman. It was about his time spent with orca in Buddy’s Cove, British Columbia.  He describes the non-stop ‘researchers’ who visit the whales and spend hours each day in small boats chasing them or the film crews who are equally aggressive in their pursuit of orca. Their justification is to help orca but in the truest sense, this is harassment. And the government issues permits to allow it.

SimoneLipscomb (3)I totally understand the need to study wild animals in order to provide data that gives proof to the government of what’s supposedly happening so that laws and rules and status changes can be implemented. But a red flag seems appropriate to raise when the welfare of the species they are trying to ‘protect’ comes into question from the research practices. Animals harassed long-term due to research become stressed. Perhaps we need to look at the practices of science that insist on data to prove anything. So it’s not as simple as finger-pointing at the government or corporations or scientists. Perhaps the process of research has never really taken deeper issues of quality of life and respect into consideration.

Can science, common sense and compassion coexist? It is a question yet to be answered. The sea holds many mysteries. Humans who think they can unravel the mysteries without common sense and compassion will never fully understand the very thing they think they are protecting. I wonder if some scientists feel as if they have to sell their soul, little-by-little, as they work within such a warped model to protect wildlife that live in environments highly damaged due to human exploitation.

SimoneLipscomb (8)
Humans can justify just about anything in the name of science. Governments can refuse to take protective action unless there are years of data. Corporations know this and profit from it. And what about the wildlife? Indeed…what about the wildlife.

SimoneLipscomb (9)

Soft Comes the Morning

Soft Comes the Morning

_TSL2573Muted light from behind a large, orange and pink cloud bank illuminated the white sand and clear salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. So gentle this day began as I walked in quiet contemplation, looking for sea turtle tracks.

_TSL2605A pastel palette offered itself to the Master Artist as dolphins and human alike witnessed the birth of a new day. Gentle, lacy-edged waves kissed the shore, their whispered voices singing…. Shuuuuuuuu……… Shuuuuuuuu…….. Shuuuuuu.

_TSL2589It isn’t easy rising at 4.30am but never has the dawn disappointed. And this morning, in particular, was soft and lovely and embraced me with gentleness.


Dancing with Light and Clouds

Dancing with Light and Clouds

_TSL2215I awoke a little before 3am and wrote about a dream I had. Once I finished writing it was after 3.30am and sleep never returned. I heard rumbles of thunder in the distance and decided to get up, grab my camera and tripod and go to the beach for a stormy sunrise shoot. Our turtle team had a sea turtle nest to process later in the early morning hours so why not go early?

_TSL2236When I arrived at the beach it was as if a trapdoor opened and water poured from the sky. According to my radar app it wouldn’t last long so I waited and attached my tripod bracket to the camera as the rain passed through. I wore my GoreTex rain jacket to protect my camera if the heavy clouds offshore changed direction and headed my way.

_TSL2248It was barely light as I walked through wet sand. Lightning was streaking and touching the horizon but according to Spark, my lightning app, it was over 13 miles offshore. The light, clouds and smooth surface of the Gulf soon had all of my attention and I hurriedly attached camera to tripod and began a dance with light and clouds.

_TSL2365The orange-gold light in the eastern sky was softened by low clouds. To the south heavy clouds, nearly touching the surface of the water, created layers of grays, blues, whites with hints of orange. I’ve had friends shooting with me ask what settings I used to achieve certain results and its difficult for me to answer because I don’t think in terms of f-stops and shutter speed. I think about light and saturation of color. I feel the shot I want to capture and simply adjust my camera settings to achieve the emotion I want to share.

_TSL2301The artistry of photography, for me anyway, is to connect with a place or animal and notice the emotion I feel from the connection. From this connection I want to create an image that translates the connection…the emotion…to the photograph and ultimately to viewers.

I do not want to just take good photographs. The experience is why I do it…the connection draws me back to the same places again and again. I go deeper into the essence of the place and myself. I focus on the flow of energy between the place, animals that live there and self.


_TSL2252Dancing with light and color is much better than getting a full night of sleep.

Cathedral of Sunrise

Cathedral of Sunrise

_TSL1819Sea turtle patrol is one of my favorite summer volunteer efforts. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s my time in the cathedral of sunrise on the shore. Every venture onto the white sand to look for mother sea turtle tracks is an opportunity to commune with the sea, sky, sand and wildlife found in and around the saltwater.

_TSL1820And while all of that communing is incredible, amazing, relaxing, and awe-inspiring, time on the beach, with no other humans, gives me time to commune with my deepest self. It’s almost as good as being underwater on scuba or in the water with humpback whales or manatees.

_TSL1893Nature is my cathedral. It’s where I see Spirit manifested so powerfully, so beautifully. The dance of life is so evident here where saltwater meets earth…the convergence zone of watery existence and land-based living. The sound of the surf is the hymn for this time of contemplation and celebration.

_TSL1900Finding a mother sea turtle’s tracks is a bonus, the proverbial icing on the cake. Each encounter with great blue herons, sanderlings, willets, dolphins, tiny just-hatched mullet, crabs, coquina shells, sand, sea, sunrise, clouds…always gifts that are received with a grateful heart.