The following is a beautifully written, firsthand experience of how sea turtles, visitors and volunteers bond on the beaches of Ocean Isle Beach.
Tracks in the Sand
The Rising sun cast shades of pink on the sand and the white foam of the ocean as the four of us walk along the edge of the water. Shells float onto the wet sand and quickly are pulled back into the retreating waves. The chilly temperature overnightwas rising as the sun warmed the air and sand.
Our destination was the one of two remaining loggerhead turtle nests on Ocean Isle Beach, NC that had not hatched. We chatted and walked on an
angle away from the water through the softer sand towards the yellow and orange pennants hanging from the ropes marking the outline of the turtle nest. The nest was located in front of a beach house at the edge of the dunes and sea grass.
As we approached the area appeared quiet and still until Barb noticed movement in front of the nest. We all immediately stopped walking and began to look around. Near our feet we saw turtle tracks in the sand leading toward the ocean, tracks toward the dunes, tracks parallel to the water, and track patterns away from the nest. As we looked closer we saw baby turtles near the nest. Some were crawling into the dune grass behind and alongside the nest. A few were in the path made by the turtle volunteers. Some turtles lay upside down on their backs. Their flippers moved in an attempt to turn them upright. Several turtles were still. The babies hatched in the morning when the sun warmed their sand home. Now they were in disarray and in distress.
Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization is a division of the Ocean Isle Museum Foundation and operates under the management of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The OIB group is under the
direction of Deb and Jim Boyce. They function with about fifty trained volunteers who monitor the nests from May to October. This nest, the Naber nest, is located at 158 East First Street on the Ocean Isle Beach.
The Boyce’s phone number was on the poster at the nest site. I called their number and reached Deb Boyce. I explained what Barb, Yulia, Skip and I found at the nest. She asked us to watch the turtles while she notified the nest parents, Mr. and Mrs. Tempsick. In the meantime we were not to touch or move any of the babies. Jim Boyce arrived first. He gave each of us a plastic glove to wear and showed us how to pick up and revive the babies. It is against the North Carolina wildlife law to interfere unless trained or asked to help by a volunteer. Jim gave Yulia a turtle to put in her gloved hand. He demonstrated how to gently blow her breath on the upturned body in hopes of warming and saving its life.
The upside down turtles we saw around the nest were instinctively on their backs to catch the warmth of the sun’s rays. If too cold, newly hatched babies will not survive. When cold it will stop moving and appear comatose. Yulia, Barb and I each attempted to revive turtles in this way. Many began to move with this warming attention.
We all followed turtle tracks in the sand to find the hardy ones moving away from the nest. Each tiny creature was gently picked up by a gloved hand and put in an open cooler. They were given an assist to the ocean because in the daytime there were many predators waiting for a meal.
Jim and Yulia continued to work on reviving four loggerheads. After
many minutes one began to move and joined its nest mates in the cooler. The other three remained still. Jim made the decision to dig a shallow hole in the sand and placed the three lifeless bodies about five inches under the sand.
At this time, we all followed the turtle parents to the water’s edge. Tipping the cooler gently on its side allowed twenty-five baby loggerhead hatchlings to scramble onto the sand. With the waves coming and going near them, the small two to three inch heart-shaped bodies with flippers flapping headed
into the shallow water. The force of the foamy waves tossed many back onto the sand. Some landed upright and began again to move into the next wave.
Others, upside down struggled to right themselves. It took three or four tries
for most to gain momentum and breach the incoming tide. As they did, they swam quickly into deeper water. They would instinctively swim about thirty miles to the safety of the floating Sargasso seaweed to feed and remain until larger.
We breathed a sigh of relief and wonder to have helped the volunteers and assist 25 turtles to safety. We exchanged names and addresses with Alex, the nest parent mother. I had taken many pictures and agreed to share them with her. They were very thankful that we found the active nest site and stayed to help. We promised to return in the evening when the rest of the 45-55 eggs might hatch.
We ate an early and quick dinner, with Alexa, our almost three year old great granddaughter; we walked back to the nest about seven P.M. Alex and her husband were there. The nest was unchanged from the morning. The center
had not dropped an indication of no activity below the sand. All was quiet. We talked among ourselves and predicted when and how many might hatch after dark. A few other beach walkers arrived and Alex told them the story of how “Donna and her family” found hatched turtles roving in the morning.
Yulia walked over to the area where Jim had buried the three babies in the morning. Looking down at the sandy area in front of the site, she noticed two new turtle tracks. Amazed, she followed them back to the burial site. She told Alex. We all marveled that maybe two turtles had revived in the warm sand and found their way up and out. Yulia, Alex, Jim, and others carefully walked
along the tracks looking for loggerheads as dusk turned darker. Around a small dune midway between the nest and the water Yulia found the first baby.
The second live turtle was spotted trudging its way a few feet beyond determined to reach the sea. Each was picked up and placed in the wet sand closer to the water. Alexa stood with us and watched the two flip and flap across the sand. Alex kindly named one turtle “Alexa” in honor of the toddler who was enthralled by the event. Alexa watched with rapt attention as her
namesake with the heart-shaped body and big black eyes slowly entered the
water. Both turtles were caught in a wave, floated back to the shore and started over again. After several attempts each loggerhead caught a wave and swam past the incoming current out of sight.
Maybe they heard the cheers of “Go Alexa” and clapping in celebration as Alexa and spectators expressed joy and wonder in the shared experience of helping two loggerhead turtle hatchlings not expected to be alive. In years to come, maybe a female from this nest will return to lay her eggs and Alexa will be able to bring future generations to experience the mystery of nature.
Donna M. Ferguson
October 15, 2011
Note: photos in this article were taken by Donna M. Ferguson