Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sea Turtle Rescue - Hollywood Beach

Sea Turtle Rescue Volunteer - Janet Baker
 I have lived and worked near Hollywood Beach off and on for the last 34 years. I'm sure if you have been to the beach even rarely or maybe for just a weekend, you've seen the Sea Turtle Nest signs and the yellow tape around them. If you are like me, you give them a passing glance and that's about it. Last night I sat with the Sea Turtle Rescue volunteers and got an extensive crash course in turtle nesting. I held out to 4:00 am but no great turtle hatching stories to share. In the next few nights, someone else will be able to finish this story but I still have plenty of information to share.

The story begins with volunteers who ride ATVs along the entire coastline every morning at dawn from March to October looking for the tell tale signs of a mother sea turtle who came ashore to lay her eggs. That would be 80-100 eggs at a time. They then tape off the area and post a sign noting the nest number for the season, type of turtle, and date of the laying. I was stationed at the first nest of the season, species Leatherback, March 16.

Marriot Hotel - Hollywood Beach
Some 65-70 days later those eggs hatch and I was there at day 68. I was informed there are now some 700+ nests in Broward and out of all those nests and all those eggs, maybe... just maybe one of these turtles will return in 25 years. They will lay eggs some hundred or so yards from where they were hatched. Because of the artificial lighting in some of these nesting areas, many of these turtles will head inland and not survive. In the photo you can see the size of the taped out area is rather large (behind Janet - oh there it is). There is currently a study to see how far a disoriented turtle will travel before - or if - it will turn around and head to sea.

I had a special invitation as an observer so I decided to make a night of it. I met my friends at the Marriot Hotel right after work for a fabulous dinner on a perfect beach evening. As the sun slowly set I loaded up my gear (a beach chair) and headed to the nest about a hundred feet from the patio. Janet brought her chair also along with paperwork, a permit, an official turtle capture bucket, low light - red lens flashlights, rain gear, water, and 40 hours of training. That last item seemed a bit excessive and that's when my lessons began. To get all that info in a better format than from my memory, visit STOP (Sea Turtle Oversight Projection) by clicking the link. They also have a Facebook Page.

I sat through two shifts until 4:00 am checking the nest frequently, talking to various people who where curious about sea turtles, enjoying the live music, and the bright lights of Hollywood Beach and meeting a variety of volunteers. Careers included Fire Marshall, FBI, Military, School Teacher, Boat Captain, and Stock Broker. To me this was a fun night out but these are professional people who take sea turtle safety very seriously. You can't just grab a wandering turtle up and toss it in the ocean. They are protected and wayward ones need to be carefully collected and cataloged so that lighting and other hazards can be mitigated by ordinances and enforcement. The more turtles that make it to the water on their own, the better.

I did not get to see a hatching but as it was explained, all the turtles in the nest will work their way out of the sand and cause a tell tale depression. Once they have made the two foot trip to the surface and generally orient themselves to which way the ocean is, they all burst out of the nest and scatter. The nest coordinator has the job of counting all these fast moving little guys and document which way they go then sweep the beach with the low light flashlight for an hour after and gather the disoriented ones. These little guys need to eat almost as soon as they hit the water and even a little sun will dehydrate them if they wind up stranded on the beach. Tough way to start life but hopefully there will always be enough dedicated heroes who will give up a large portion of their nights to watch over them rain or shine and help them to maybe make it back one day to start the cycle over.

Baby Turtle's First View of the World
Special thanks to Richard Whitecloud, Director of STOP and the volunteers I met for this rare opportunity to sit in for a night of nest watching. Volunteers require extensive training and permitting and casual observers are generally not allowed. They have asked me to share some additional information:

1) It is illegal to handle hatchlings if one is not permitted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission
2) If you happen to spot disoriented hatchlings, call the STOP 24 hour emergency hotline - 954-404-0025 or on your cell *FWC.
3) Sick, injured, or dead sea turtles can be reported to Nova University at 954-328-0580
4) No filming with lights or flash photography permitted on the beach during hatching and egg laying.


  1. Great post, and good for you getting out there and helping those cute little turtles out! :)

  2. @ Tex - I Thought I would pretend to be a real journalist to impress my cute little fans. So how are you real journalist fan? I'm missing your musings. There must be something springing up wherever in the world you are now.

  3. I've stayed up to watch the turtles nesting in Bundaberg, Queensland (OZ, of course), but haven't seen them hatch either. One day, one day ...

  4. @ Red - Well Here's your chance

  5. Hi! Just wanted to check in and see how the baby albino sea turtle is doing. Tomorrow (9/8/12) will be one week since Cody and I brought him in. I was curious about how his eye is doing and if he's been transferred to a different facility. I believe you said there was a link to the rescue marine center on your blog, but I haven't seen it. Is there a way to keep up with the little turtles progress?

  6. All the bold text in my blog is a clickable link.

  7. I just read your story to my daughter. She loved it! She is now having me search the web for more interesting stories about sea turtles.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.
    Minnetonka, MN

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  9. Nice post! I heard that there are child rescue volunteers who saved the missing children for free. The missing children are experienced physical and mental abused.