We sent our 2019 Communication Intern, Bridget Williams, on a mission - go on one of our famous Turtle Walks and write about what it is like to experience a nesting mother for the first time. Here were her reflections:
If I had to pick one word to describe what it’s like to see a sea turtle nest, it would probably be magical, as cheesy as that is.
As a member of the Conservancy, you get the opportunity to experience a Turtle Walk. We can’t guarantee there will be a turtle, but if there is we can guarantee it will be an amazing experience. During our first weeks here, four of us interns decided to do our own personal turtle walks. Here’s what happened.
Starting around 9pm, we sat on the beach waiting for a call from the turtle team. We looked for constellations, played with bioluminescence in the sand and watched the red lights of the UTVs move along the beach. After an hour or so, we got a text letting us know there was a turtle nesting not too far from us. Rather than getting a golf cart and driving there, we decided to walk. (Okay, so since it was our first turtle, we might have actually run.) As we got closer, we could see the red headlamps of the turtle team moving along the beach as they prepared to do their work up.
When we arrived, the mom was digging her nest just above the high tide line. Had this been an official turtle walk, we probably wouldn’t have arrived until after she started laying, so as not to scare her away with the crowd. We sat in the sand a few feet back and watched as she slowly, carefully scooped sand with her back flippers and dug a hole deeper than the length of my forearm.
We watched the team identify and measure the mom while she laid her eggs. After they had finished their work up, the turtle coordinator allowed each of the interns to come closer to the turtle’s head to get a chance to see just how big it was. For many of us, it was our first wild turtle encounter, so it was pretty incredible to be that close! Without being part of a conservation effort, you have to stay far away from them as per the Endangered Species Act.
It’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Once the mom finished laying her eggs, she methodically covered the nest with sand, using her body to pack it down in her best attempt to protect it from predation. Then, she turned around and crawled her way back to the water. We followed her from a distance and watched as she slowly disappeared into the waves.
By then the turtle team was already back at work relocating the nest. Because her nest was so close to the high tide line, they decided to move it closer to the dunes to reduce the risk of inundation by water, which can cause it to fail. This entailed digging up the nest, carefully removing each egg and placing it into a cooler. Once all the eggs were in the cooler, the cooler was carried to a new nest made by one of the sea turtle interns. Then, each egg was individually placed back in. There ended up being over 90 eggs.
During the entire process, the orientation of the eggs had to remain the same because some researchers believe changing it can affect the baby turtle’s ability to use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Once all the eggs were carefully moved, the interns covered the nest and placed a plastic cage over it to protect it from predators.
As we walked back to the Conservancy, we all agreed we had just witnessed a true miracle of nature.
Turtle walks are a member only event, but anyone can sign up to be a member here.