Recently I had the opportunity to tag along with the Padre Island National Seashore Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery to recover some eggs that had just been laid by a Kemp's ridley sea turtle.
I went behind the scenes to experience first hand just how important the Turtle Patrol is. I saw their love, knowledge and dedication to not only the sea turtles but all the wildlife.
It was about 8:00am Wednesday morning when my phone rang. It was Donna Shaver with the Turtle Patrol. They just got a call in that a Kemp's ridley had nested at the 14 mile marker.
She so generously gave me the opportunity to ride out there with them. When I arrived at the headquarters about 45 minutes later the responders where loaded up and ready to go. I just had to sign a few papers and off we went. I road along with responders Arwenn Freeman and Meaghan Hall. The entire drive we talked about our love for the beach, turtles, wildlife, birds, and what I was to expect when we arrived at the location of the nest. These two ladies were extremely professional, nice, and willing to share as much information as possible.
When we arrived at the nesting site, Thomas Backof (another turtle patroller) was there waiting.
He was helping keep watch and make sure that the site remained untouched or harmed. Yellow flags adorned the tracks and body drag marks made by the mama turtle. She was no longer there and already made her way back out to sea. The responders wasted no time. Talk about teamwork, they had a routine down and worked beautifully together.
Meaghan diligently found the perfect sand for transfer while Thomas and Arwenn got the box ready and padded for the eggs. It's hard because some never realized how meticulous and important little things can be until they are first hand dealing with live critters. Much like the details of tagging a shark for science, every little thing is important in the safety of the wildlife. Meaghan explained to me the process of finding just the right kind of dirt to transfer the turtle eggs in. She carried a 5 gallon bucket to a spot on the dune line and dug until she found sand that was cool and clay-like. She gathered all the paperwork and counter for the eggs as well. Arwenn dug the eggs out and Thomas shaded the box to keep them from drying out.
It was beautiful to watch as Arwenn pulled out the first three eggs, then four, two, three, five and so on until all 129 eggs were collected.
This is normal for mother turtles to lay more then a hundred in one clutch. One of the eggs was a different shape more oval then round, which I later was told is not unusual. Each egg that was brought out was counted and written down. After all eggs had been retrieved they separated them evenly into two boxes. No more then 100 eggs could be in each box. When all was done, the hole was covered back up. Nothing but two blue flags embellished the ground where the once turtle nest used to be. They all carefully put the boxes in the car, padded, and buckled them in safely.
The drive back to headquarters was centered on the safety of the babies on board. They were extra careful not to hit bumps. Anything to get the eggs back to headquarters incubation as quickly and safely as possible. So much work and love went into this one little clutch. I can only imagine how much work is involved on a busy day when they bring in 20 or more clutches. I have mad respect for everyone involved in the turtle patrol group. I learned that some are campers and actually spend several nights down the beach looking solely for nests. I have always had a great appreciation for wildlife, turtles and all who help in their safety and science. My appreciation for the Turtle Patrol only grew larger after being with them for a day.
This was my first time to see a clutch be gathered and I will forever remember it and the ladies that let me tag along. On the side of the box was the clutch number 252. I was told that the eggs typically hatch within 40-45 days. So you can bet if their release is public, I will be there to see these babies waddle out to the water for the first time....and possibly shed tears of joy. If you are interested in being at one of these sea turtle hatchling releases you can call the Hatchling Hotline at 361-949-7163 to find the latest information about the next public release. This year has been record breaking for the amount of nest retrieved so far. And we still have two-three more moths of nesting. When the wind is howling there is a bigger chance these mamas will come find their place in the sand to lay eggs. If you happen to come across a sea turtle nesting, please call Turtle Patrol at 361-949-8173. Try not to disturb her and give her space.
Again, I want to give a special thanks to all those that let me take part in the gathering of this clutch and to everyone at the turtle patrol station for all that they do. You are greatly appreciated by many.