It was a beautiful morning on Isle of Palms and the Turtle Team was on call. We were making our way toward the long stretch of loggerhead tracks that scarred the smooth sand from the sea up to the low rise of dunes. The incoming tracks were markedly shorter than the outgoing-- a sure sign that the turtle was on the beach awhile. Turtle eggs were somewhere!
Sure enough, we quickly found the field signs for a nest. There are seven of us on the core team and we take turns probing the nest to find the eggs. The probe is a narrow metal stick that we carefully, methodically, pry into the sand. We take the job seriously. First we discuss the field signs, such as broken vegetation, thrown sand, and the incoming path of the turtle, to surmise the most likely location of the eggs. This method is so efficient we often locate the eggs in a few probes. The key is to bend at the knees, rather like a plie in ballet, to keep the weight balanced. The sand has a firm base. When we find the nest, however, the sand is soft and gives way in a sudden drop. It’s unmistakable! Once we feel a drop or change in the sand, we abandon the probe and dig with our hands to locate the eggs. It’s an efficient system. In eleven years probing for thousands of eggs, I’ve never broken a single egg.
Anyway, this particular morning it was my turn to probe, and trust me, we feel chuffed when we come up to bat. While my team mates watched, fingers itching on their probes, I began. After a few tries I met with a strange resistance, soft yet unfamiliar—not a shell, not wrack, not paper. It was nothing like I’d felt before. My first thought was, could it be an eggshell? I immediately pulled back, and dropping to my knees, began digging with my hands.
Was it an eggshell? No. What did I find? A pair of pink lacy panties! Eeeeuuuuwwww!
This was a turtle team first! Naturally the jokes began flying in earnest. My favorite had something to do with how the turtle forgot her panties after she laid the nest. Bev was a pal and carried the abandoned debris to the trash. After a few more probes I did find the eggs. They were high enough up on the beach that we left the nest in situ. We figured the mama turtle must have covered the panties with sand as she covered her nest.
It’s never dull on the turtle team. This season especially we’ve had some crack Turtle Team CSI moments, finding the eggs when the wind had blown away all field signs. With each treasure trove of turtle eggs we discover we feel the same thrill we did with the first. Every hatchling we witness make its way to the sea is a miracle.
But the caper of the pink panties was one for the books. Hmmm…. In fact, maybe it should go into the book I’m writing now? Don’t be surprised if you read it!