A Turtle Season of Highs and Lows

The first breath of fall has come to the Isle of Palms.  An early cold front brought a chill to the dawn air.  I wake early and wrap favorite patchwork wool and cashmere shawl around my shoulders, slip my bare feet into sandals and step out into the morning.  The scent of pluff mud is strong this morning and I smile.  It is the scent of home.

There is an inventory of a turtle nest this morning.  The first one since Hurricane Irene’s waves battered our coast.  We dodged a bullet with that storm.  Originally it was predicted to hit our shores as a category 2 or 3 hurricane.  Instead, she veered north.  Who would have thought my brother and sister-in-law in Vermont would have been clobbered?  I always say, never turn your back on a hurricane.

Our island is saddened, however, because Irene destroyed dunes and we lost 9 nests and three that were due to be inventoried.  Which makes today’s inventory special.  I make my way along the narrow beach path bordered by high walls of sand dunes.  The tropical storm’s heavy rains and the cool air have gifted the lowcountry with a second spring.  The undulating dunes are blanketed with countless cheery heads of yellow primrose, gaillardia, and the tiny, sensual wild purple orchids I adore.  My heels dig into the cool sand as I climb the final, tall sand dune.  I can hear the roar of the ocean before I can see it. 

The vista of the mighty ocean spread out to infinity to meet the heavens never fails to take my breath away.  The ocean is moody this morning, gun metal gray with long, choppy waves that curl to shore foamy white.   The recent storm has ravaged the shoreline, cutting through the dunes and leaving a long line of wrack, a foot high in places.  Shells of all kind and size littered the wrack with sponges and sea whip and the ubiquitous plastic bottles.

I’m amused, as I always am, by a flock of sandpipers playing tag with the wave.  They are poking their little black awls in the sand with an urgent hunger. One little black and white peep dares to venture close.   We stare at each other a moment, its shiny black eyes unblinking.  Curious, I take a small step closer and it skitters away.  Above, a laughing gull seems to mock my pensive mood.  

The turtle team taking inventory
I am met by my fellow Turtle Team members, Mary, Tee, Bev, Linda and the Barbaras. We divvy up duties and begin the first of two inventories that morning.  Our only observer this morning is Elizabeth and her fiancé.  They are getting married on the weekend and they glow like the dawn breaking overhead.  Elizabeth is a volunteer and found this nest.  It was a healthy nest with a total of 106 eggs hatched for a 91% hatch.

Releasing the hatchling
We move on to 9th Avenue for a second inventory.  I found one little hatchling trapped in the cold sand and put it into the now famous red bucket.  This is another successful nest with114 eggs and had a 92% hatch success.  Elizabeth releases this lone swimmer to the sea.  He leaves a watery trail on the sand before he reaches the sea.  Instinct kicks in and the hatchling dives and swims off, disappearing into the waves. 

I stare out at the sea and wonder if I’ve ever seen a more beautiful morning on the beach.  A pale blue sky is covered with a thin layer of pearly gray, wispy clouds, like lace over a gown.  The ocean absorbs the gray color, mysterious, even threatening. Yet in the distance hints of pink fringe the horizon, promising dawn. The tide is going out leaving a wide watery sheen on the sand that is aglow in rosy hues.

As this season comes to a close, I think how it’s been filled with an unusual number of highs and lows.   Early in the season the turtles came in greater numbers than we’ve had in years. We were so excited at racking up the number of nests, betting we’d get to forty and feeling exultant when we hit forty-four.  A few of the nests were hard to find when the wind destroyed field signs.  There were three CSI triumphs for the team.  The Pink Panty nest remains one for the books (read my August blog posting if you missed that story).  And, of course, there was Irene’s destruction of the nests we’d carefully moved to a location we’d always thought was safe. 

As the sun rises higher in the sky and we head back to our homes, we talk about the season and we find comfort in knowing that despite the loss of nests to the hurricane, because we had so many nests this season in the end we helped more hatchlings to the sea this year than last.   Nature is the great teacher if we stand back and take the long view.   We might face storms and incessant rain, but there is hope in each dawn.  I take a final look back at the ocean and smile.  That one small hatchling is racing to the Gulf Stream.

Hatchling rescued from the sand

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
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