Tag: Gulf of Mexico

Hello World*

Hello World*

It’s not the most ideal day to be born but when you are a sea turtle, you deal with whatever comes your way. Just like all wildlife, there isn’t a birth plan that so many mothers and fathers have these days. No scheduling your C-section or induction. If you are a sea turtle hatchling or baby bird or any kind of wild animal, whenever it is your time to be born, you face it and greet the world with everything you have to survive.

Witnessing the birthing of sea turtles has gifted me with this simple fact: I have absolutely no reason to ever whine or complain again. Watching tiny babes crawling into the churning Gulf of Mexico reminds me that challenges in my life are truly small compared to what hatchlings face–especially on a day like today when the sea was high and they had no choice but to follow their instinct to crawl and then swim.

So….to all sea turtle hatchlings entering the Gulf during tropical storm Isaac….Godspeed and swim hard and know that you have a lot of humans sending you love and support as you make your journey.

How can we support each other in our journeys through life?

*Sherry Sander Parks captioned the first picture, Hello World. Sherry is a turtle woman extraordinaire as are many of our team leaders in Share the Beach. THANK YOU ALL!

As Above, So Below

As Above, So Below

After a couple days of rain and storms, the Gulf kicked up a bit and offered a show of light that has me—hours later–still in a state of awe.

First there was the strong wind creating powerful waves and high surf. Then the clouds created a most amazing display of color and shape. For hours the sky went through color-after-color and cloud formations that kept me in perpetual vocalization with statements like, “I can’t believe this sky,” or “This is amazing,” and “Oh, my goodness.” These phrases became a sort of mantra for me as I breathed in golden light seeming to bounce off of every surface of fluffy cloud and every ripple and wave of the sea. I’d take a few photos and put my camera away only to pull it out just moments later.

And all the while waiting for two groups of sea turtles to decide if birth was in their plans for the evening.

Finally, the colors faded and a call came from a nest just down the beach, “Can you ladies come down and give a hand?” So we left our quiet nest and went a few blocks down the beach and joined our team members awaiting the imminent birth of loggerheads while standing under starlight of now-clear skies. And about thirty minutes later, the hole darkened and 78 babies came out in a nearly darkened skyline to crawl toward the rough water of the Gulf.

As a few of us walked along beside these tiny beings near the water I whispered to them to dive deep and let the undertow take them out to sea as the waves were churning. We approached the tideline and the sand lit up with an uprush of water. Phosphorescence in the water! The sand glowed like neon lights as the water receded. And as the little loggerhead flippers touched the sand, it was as if the starlight above was reflected below and the tiny beings flapped and crawled along phosphorescent stars underneath them to dive into their new home, their true home.

Sometimes its difficult to take in so much beauty, such complete beauty. And yet with each breath, I exhale gratitude. Perfect balance, perfect beauty. As above, so below.

Finding Balance in Working with Nature

Finding Balance in Working with Nature

I’m immersed in sea turtle research. Stacks of books lay scattered about my office and every time I open one I learn something new and wonderful about these amazing creatures. There are scientific books with hard science and data, touchy-feely books that embrace the ancient symbols of spirituality that sea turtles embody, and there are a couple of books that fulfill both the language of science and symbology.

Carl Safina, in his book Voyage of the Turtle, writes of leatherback sea turtles, “Their mute plea, as they attempt to carry on as always, is that we will understand, while there’s time, the connections within this water-bound planet.” He’s writing about the shrinking world and the loss of life on the planet.

Being an advocate for wildlife species means going beyond the cold science and hard facts of data and interpreting beyond biology to something greater. What does the species need to survive? What can its potential loss teach humans? This is vital because mainstream humanity will ignore hard facts and scientific studies but will connect on a deeper level where beauty exists. And beauty cannot be measured by tissues samples, counting spent eggs or the dead trapped in a nest.

Yet both sides are vital to preservation and conservation of species. We must have the scientific data so we have estimates of population sizes, health of the species, and genetic tendencies. But ignoring our heart-felt, compassionate connection is what allowed the damage to the planet and wildlife species to be done in the first place.
Years ago physicians were not instructed in wellness or body-mind-spirit of their patients. It was all hard science. Studies show that patients have a better chance of being healthy when their physician treats them as a whole, not just as a physical body. I wonder if wildlife biologists and volunteers approached their work with animals from a holistic approach how the species would respond. Verbal language is not the only valid language and more studies show this, too, is true.

There is a place for science and compassion to dwell side-by-side. A place where the wellbeing of one turtle is as important as 90. Where wolves are seen as vital parts of an ecosystem, not villains and where great white sharks are seen as an important apex predators, not  human-eating-machines.  I believe we can find that balance as we work to heal ourselves and this beautiful water planet. What about you?

Moving Beyond Survival of the Fittest

Moving Beyond Survival of the Fittest

I hadn’t heard the term in a while but it came up the other day–survival of the fittest (SOF). It has always made me cringe, especially when it is applied to new life arriving on the planet, be it sea turtle, squirrel, dolphin, whale or human. It seems so cold, so removed from compassion. So I decided to do a bit of research.

Herbert Spencer coined the phrase as an alternative to natural selection after reading Charles Darwin’s book and Darwin, in the 5th edition of On the Origin of Species published in 1869, credited Spencer with the phrase.

Biologists today don’t really use the phrase but rather use the term natural selection to reference differential reproduction as a function of traits that have a genetic basis. SOF is inaccurate because survival is simply a normal prerequisite to reproduce (duh) and fitness in biology has a different meaning than the way pop culture uses the term. It’s not about how strong or big or fast something or somebody is in biological circles. What Darwin meant by fitness was ‘better able to adapt to changing environments.’

Extinction of various species happens because of large shifts in the environment. So truly, fittest means those animals most suited to their environment.

If we ponder the sea turtle on the coast of Alabama, we see the natural environment has been substantially altered in most locations. Dunes have been bulldozed or significantly altered, light pollution abounds and roadways criss-cross what used to be natural habitat. So sea turtles, in essence, would become greatly reduced due to human alteration of the environment (they have already been greatly reduced in numbers). NOT because of weak hatchlings, but because the environment has been altered to the point where the turtles simply cannot survive there.

And if we look offshore, we see the environment has also been significantly altered through use of nets and fishing practices that have harmed large numbers of turtles. Even though some commercial fisheries vessels use TEDs (turtle excluder devices), not all do. Onshore and offshore, the environment has greatly changed and thus made it difficult for sea turtles to live and reproduce.

I think of cancer rates in humans and mysterious diseases and see that natural selection is playing out in our own species. We alter the environment, fill it with toxic waste produced by corporations, we purchase products by said corporations and invest in the very culprits altering our ecosystems to the point where we cannot survive.

Corporations can donate endless funds to politicians. This opens the proverbial door to the rape and destruction of our planet on a scale unimaginable to us. Profit-at-any-cost is how corporations operate. There is never enough wealth to fill their coffers. So profit-hungry corporations buy more and more into our government (contributing to campaigns), elected officials then ‘owe’ the contributors and therefore legislate to please whoever donated the most money. And no matter what ‘side’ you may lean, the Earth is going to lose and that means you, me, children, wildlife, wild places….all of these precious, sacred elements of this water planet will become expendable as corporate control of our country expands.

People ask why spend so many hours and put so much effort into a nest of sea turtles. Share the Beach was originally formed because sea turtles were not able to adapat to the human-created changes in the coastal environmental. That’s why they ended up protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. We have to move beyond the idea that species that cannot adapt to human-created changes (over-fishing, lights, destruction of habitat, pollution) are not worth saving. Otherwise the human species would be extinct…there would be no need for doctors, nurses, medical researchers.

Because we have the ability to be compassionate and recognize value in all life, we can move beyond human arrogance and the belief that altering the ecosystems to suit our own needs is okay. We can refuse to buy into the belief that corporations have the right to continue their pillaging of the planet. For every hour spent holding a space of compassion and light in endeavors to help others, whether its humans or wildlife or wild lands, we magnify the spirit of unity and love that is the answer to healing our wounded world, to healing our own woundedness.

So Perfect the Night

So Perfect the Night

The mother loggerhead heaved her massive body on to the white sand beach during a coastal thunderstorm and laid a nest of 119 eggs in her perfectly dug pit. After being satellite tagged “Storm” crawled back to sea, leaving her babies to incubate in the summer heat.

Fifty-seven days later, during a ferocious lightning storm, 87 hatchlings crawled to the salty water of the Gulf and began their lifetime of ocean living. Two more siblings made their appearance later that night.

The next night five more babies crawled out of the nest amid island visitors ooohhh’s and ahhh’s and questions about sea turtles and sharks and sand and practices adopted to assist the turtles. Another emerged later cheered on by children and adults alike. And while it’s wonderful that people take an interest in hatchlings and sea turtles (and anything unrelated to television, video games and other human-created distractions), sometimes it is stressful for those of us charged with keeping the turtles safe as they journey from nest to sea. What is the fine balance between allowing up close and personal viewing and danger for loggerhead hatchlings–a species protected by the Endangered Species Act?

The following night arrived and a few people were still inquiring about the status of additional hatchlings. We heard noise when we listened with the stethoscope but it sounded like the turtles were not progressing past a certain point in their crawl up and out. Tourists lost interest and wandered home. Children were called inside by family and finally the beach got quiet.

The orange moon began to peak above the condos far to the east. Three of us ‘green shirts’ remained, softly sharing stories of animals and the intimate connection women develop with the Earth and four-leggeds, winged-ones, finned-ones and creepy crawlers. The instinctual knowing we have because of our own child birth experiences and the understanding we share with the Earth as she labors with these little hatchlings, draws us closer to each other and to the turtles in the process of being birthed from the womb of the planet.

Stars lit up the sky as they hung close to us, three women sitting with this labor, this unfolding of life. The soft murmer of our voices sprinkled with joyful notes of laughter wove a web of safety as three more hatchlings slowly emerged from their confinement of hard, wet sand. Quietly we crawled beside them allowing them to find their way to the water, encouraging them with low notes of song or words of encouragement until they found their way to the rolling breakers that welcomed them in watery embrace.

Some argue that the method we use to assist the hatchlings is unnatural–using a trench, redirecting them when they head toward artificial light sources. However, the only way to re-create a natural sea turtle’s hatching experience is to return the beach to a natural state….a complete blackout of all lights on the beach and/or removing all buildings and tourists. Extreme? Of course, so we hold up towels or block light these babies are naturally attracted to, otherwise they crawl directly to the light. In the case of this particular nest, every baby made a bee-line due east once they reach the hard-packed sand…directly to the brightly-lit sky of the ‘condo run’ in Gulf Shores. Or like last night, to the house that had an inside light on that was illuminating the sand above the nest.

If humans created the dangers for sea turtle hatchlings, then humans must be responsible for making this right in some way. It is the only moral thing to do. Even if it involves hours of sitting on dark beaches waiting…..waiting….waiting. And for many of us, the willingness to correct mistakes made by humans to help such a vulnerable species knows no bounds.

The natural beach is long gone in Gulf Shores but it is still a place where humans can try to undo harm done to marine species such as sea turtles by giving them safe passage back to their ocean home. In the process we are transformed, we become attuned once again to the cycles of nature–the coming and going of tides, the patterns of stars, weather. In the truest sense, we are healed through our efforts to help sea turtles. With each hour spent, with every turtle that makes it to the water, we right a wrong done when the beaches were leveled and condos raised.