This winter has been a doozy around the country, and not just for humans. On Tuesday, The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor from Oceana's chief scientist Mike Hirshfield on the effect of this year's harsh winter on sea turtles. Check it out:
Officials are calling this one of the worst years on record for sea turtle strandings in the United States. Approximately 2,500 sea turtles have been found wounded or dead as a result of cold-stunning in the increasing frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Volunteers are busily scouring the coastline for sea turtles that can be rehabilitated and eventually released back into the wild, and rescue centers are becoming inundated with sea turtles fighting for survival.
To a scientist, it all makes perfect, if unfortunate, sense. Cold-blooded reptiles like sea turtles are simply unable to warm themselves in cold water. While sea turtles are commonly found in northern U.S. waters during the summer and early fall, they typically migrate to warmer climates by late October. Unfortunately, not all of them made it out before the area temperatures dropped to unbearable levels, and with a winter like we are having, it is bound to be a deadly scenario.
I’m back from Bald Head Island, NC – but fear not, there’s one last adventure to report. One of my last days down there, I drove to Topsail Island, which is a short drive up the coast, to see Jean Beasley’s famed turtle hospital (named after her daughter Karen).
Beasley, who won Animal Planet’s 2007 hero of the year award, is a teacher-turned-turtle activist whose hospital started as a single injured turtle under a tent in her backyard in the mid-‘90s.
The “hospital” is a small warehouse with about 20 pools of varying sizes and depths, each containing an injured sea turtle. Staffed by around 70 volunteers, (plus 150 helping with nesting on the beach), the hospital currently houses three species of sea turtles – loggerheads, greens, and Kemp's ridleys.
[Day 1 refresher: abandoning Cory on the beach around midnight, I drive the golf cart home sleepily and collapse in bed, filling my sheets with sand because I’m too tired and lazy to wash off my feet.]
At 5:45 my alarm goes off. It’s already time to go back to the beach, only this time there’s almost no chance I’ll be seeing any live sea turtles. I’m going to see Maureen (Bald Head Island Conservancy's head naturalist) and several volunteers perform two nest excavations, which are exactly what they sound like – digging up nests to see what’s inside.
In this case, the nests are long overdue to hatch, and Maureen says it’s not worth wasting any more of the nest monitors’ time and energy – it’s time to find out what’s going on under the sand. She warns Cory and me that it probably won’t be pretty (read: dead babies), but that we’re welcome to come along.
At the moment my alarm goes off, I think, “Sleep - or dead baby sea turtles?” I nearly choose the first, but force myself out the door. It’ll be like digging for buried treasure, I tell myself. (Except with the potential to be heartbreaking.)