When we first started coming to Marriott's Ocean Pointe Resort, we noticed a sign
about sea turtles as well as several areas that were taped off
on the beach because they were sites of nests. Nests with an orange stick in them meant that they had already hatched.
I really didn't know much about turtles at that time. Then one of my friends and colleagues at work, Susan, decided to start a book club. We would read a book a month and then all meet at lunch one day to discuss it. One of the selections Susan suggested was The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe (I'm going to talk about this wonderful book in another post). The book was amazing and I learned about the plight of sea turtles in the process. Susan and her husband vacation in South Carolina each summer, where this story takes place, and it just happens to be where the author is from. Susan brought additional information she obtained about sea turtles to the book club meeting where we discussed this story. I have to admit, my interest in this majestic creature was peaked.
The following summer when we visited the resort, I found a brochure for the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and suggested to my family that we make a visit. It was incredible! The Center is located adjacent to one of the most heavily nested sea turtle beaches in the world. It's mission is to promote conservation of Florida's coastal ecosystems with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. They do research and collect data on sea turtles and they are also home to the Gordon & Patricia Gray Veterinary Hospital that is permitted to treat the threatened and endangered species. Each year between 70-80 sea turtles and more than 1,000 hatchlings are cared for by the center's hospital staff and trained volunteers. The goal for each patient is to be released back to its ocean home. Admission to the center is free (though they do appreciate donations), and there is something for all ages to enjoy. This year there were many recovering turtles and quite a few hatchlings being cared for by the staff.
Each time we visit the center we are amazed at the wonderful volunteers that are present and they are always available to answer questions and enthusiastically share their knowledge.
Last year when we vacationed on Florida's west coast, we were lucky enough to come across a turtle volunteer on one of our morning walks, whose job it was to dig up a nest that had hatched, and record specific findings such as how many hatched eggs were found as well as any unhatched eggs. She was so kind and willing to take the time to explain what she was doing as long as no one disturbed her work. This year we had some great conversations with several of the volunteer staff at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. One woman was originally from our home state of New Jersey and told us how she has seen parts of a hatching but never had the luck or privilege of observing one from beginning to end. We could relate, as two years ago, while on vacation we were walking on the beach and noted a commotion and quite a few people around one of the nests.We arrived in time to see several baby hatchlings running from the nest to the ocean. We felt blessed to get to see this natural wonder as the babies made their way out into the sea.
We spoke with another volunteer about some differences we had noted when we vacationed at various resorts. While each place had signs up about lights and the confusion and danger they can bring to hatchlings, it seemed like different places enforced the "lights out" rule differently. When sea turtles hatch, they need to run from the nest to the ocean quickly. One of the things that helps guide the baby turtles in the right direction is the moonlight over the ocean. However over the years, man has inadvertently created another danger for the turtles. As homes, hotels, resorts and stores emerged along the coasts, the lights from these buildings create a glow that can confuse the babies and cause them to run in the wrong direction, away from the sea. Some places have very strict "lights out" policies and the rules are strictly enforced, while others have the policy but seem to leave it up to individuals to uphold the rules and expectation. The turtle volunteer explained that the enforcement can vary by county or municipality. This caused us to wonder, as we had noted a lot of hotels that had rooms facing the ocean with lights on during our walk on the beach the previous night.
We left the Loggerhead Marinelife Center with more knowledge, some great photos, a renewed respect for all the volunteers, but most of all more family memories to add to our collection and chapters of our life. We couldn't wait for our continued nightly walks on the beach where we intended to stop and observe each nest and maybe be lucky enough to see a hatching.