Monday, July 19, 2010

Sea Turtle Hatchlings On The Beach In Fort Lauderdale

I finally saw a nest hatch out. Around 11PM. Nest #71. Stephanie the volunteer was there and one other guy who happened to be walking by. In just a few seconds, what had been smooth sand turned into a squirming heap. And then, as if somebody had given a signal, they all bolted. Stephanie told us what had to be done and she was well in charge of the situation - but in theory only.  There is no way she could have dealt with what was about to happen if she had been alone, and when that became clear, she said something about the "Good Samaritan" clause trumping the usual prohibition keeping untrained people from participating in the process. 

Two things happened simultaneously. All of the hatchlings (and I mean 100% of them) headed southwest rather than east into the sea, drawn by the headlights of the cars going north on A1A, and the lightning storm that had been percolating offshore arrived ferociously. The rain was so dense and wind-driven that it was very difficult to see anything - the other guy ran for shelter - and Stephanie, whose drenched t shirt had been both loose and white, kept saying "I'm supposed to count them! Can you help me count them?" (Not the usual beach script for someone in  a girls-gone-wild outfit.) It became immediately obvious that we were counting some of them two or more times, and some of them not at all. It was very much like that Seinfeld episode in which George plays that old video game Frogger. She gave up and we started putting them into the two buckets. I have the feeling that a large number of them got away from us. 

When the rain stopped five minutes later in true Florida fashion, we took the buckets down to the water and released them in groups of five. The downward slant of the smooth packed sand at the water's edge seemed to shield them from distracting light but some of them still wanted to head toward the traffic. Also, several of them headed back to the buckets, not out of any yearning for their childhood orphanage, but because the buckets are white and attracted their attention. I think the buckets of the volunteers should be painted black. One of hatchlings kept heading to my feet which Stephanie says are very white. We stood silently pondering her words for a few seconds both slightly off balance by the strenuous intimacy of a statement and an adventure shared by two who had before this hour never met. I considered naming him as he knocked his little head into my flip flop. I tried to think of a foot fetishist whose name I knew, and realized that I don't know any by name. I wonder if that fact is more curious than the whiteness of my feet. 

Also, I think we should have dug a trench leading to the water as soon as the hatching began.  Had they been in the bottom of such a trench, they might not have seen the headlights. They are cute little buggers. Some were feisty, lifting their heads up and looking about. Some were slow and plodding and would not be dissuaded from their misdirection (Republicans) until a good strong wave convinced them. Stephanie says that their march to the sea is a necessary exertion and that just dumping the bucket into the waves would cause some of them to drown.

We released exactly fifty from the buckets, and Stephanie predicted a second wave of hatchlings from the same nest perhaps before dawn.  We released them in groups of five and when each group's members had been washed away (and some of them get tossed back onto the sand by smaller waves, necessitating more interventions, like relapsed addicts, the Lindsay Lohans of the brood destined for a hardknock life), Stephanie would draw a line in the sand. She made four parallel lines, and then crossed that set diagonally just the way prisoners mark their duration on the walls of their cells. She completed two sets before the tide took our records away.

We scouted the periphery for strays. We found only one. In the middle of the highway. He had not made it across.

I've had a lifetime of seeing roadkill through a windshield with absolutely no emotional reaction but this one got to me.

On my way back to my bike, I encountered a gigantic female sea turtle digging her nest fifteen feet north of the lifeguard station and I doubled back to let Stephanie know so that she could watch over her and mark the nest.

Stephanie says that the hatchlings will swim for two or three days before they reach an area of underwater vegetation where they will get their first food and find protection. Along the way, some will be eaten by natural predators. This is not upsetting because it is part of the balance. But the one that scurried eagerly toward the oncoming headlights on the highway should not have perished.


Tater said...

I would have loved to have been there helping out. Always wanted to witness the hatching of sea turtles, and the dash to the sea. Never knew they were distracted by light. Glad you were there to help.

Dr. Courtney said...

This was an awesome experience. I hope I get to witness this in action one day. Love your blog..i'm gonna follow! :)

Tony Adams said...

Thanks LHL. Welcome aboard, and have you voted for me yet in the gay travel guru contest? I could use a "five point" vote.

Here's how:
Here's the link. When you get there, you should see some tiny blue
letters to click next to my name:
You will have to do the usual register - receive the confirming email - login - and then vote thing.

Deeply appreciated.