Ready to Travel

Ready to Travel

Monday, September 3, 2012

The 100 yard dash

Last night I was honored to be invited to join a group of volunteers monitoring sea turtles nests around the Isle of Palms beaches.(That's in South Carolina).  Loggerhead turtles nest on the beaches from May through August. The volunteers relocate the nest if it is too close to the tide lines, remove one egg for dna analysis which allows them to monitor where and how many nests a female has made, and monitor the nest during the hatching.  They had cordoned off this one with string and hung a sign letting beachwalkers know what was going on and inserted a sound probe down into the nest. The turtles had actually hatched out of their eggs two days before and were climbing their way out of the pit. The sound probe was picking up the noise of the sand shifting and moving as they clawed their way up. We had a full moon last night. The reflection on the water helps guide the turtles to the sea. It was also an outgoing tide which helps carry them out. A volunteer was seated over the nest to take pictures with a camera mounted on a tripod. They use these photos to produce a variety of fundraising materials.I couldn't take pictures even though the flash was turned off.The tiny focusing light was still too bright and disruptive.  We would watch cracks and small holes appear in the sand, using red light flashlights. Every once in a while the sand would move and heave. We started our vigil at 8:30 p.m. and at 12:30 a.m. the first turtle breached the open air. After that, it was as if they boiled up out of the nest and crawled like mad to the water. There were about 90 eggs in the nest and we tried to count the babies as they came out but they were exiting in a mass and too quickly. We spread out the team to make sure none of the late night beach walkers impeded the turtles'  way to water and followed the last critter to the sea's edge. You could see the tracks of all the babies in the wet sand,  reflecting moonlight. It looked like miniature tractor tracks leading out to sea. There was a party of two families with children and they could not believe their good fortune at witnessing this. One young boy of about ten said he got more than he bargained for on this vacation and he would never forget it. In half an hour the whole thing was over. It was a truly magical event for me. Having watched it on tv many times I got to see it live. Unforgettable.