|Sea Turtle Rescue Volunteer - Janet Baker|
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|
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|
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.