Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sea Turtles on Vacation

So, I now know more about sea turtles than I ever thought I would--and much more than I need to know.

When we moved into our ocean front house--way down near the end of Oak Island, within walking distance of 'the Point', there was this crazy arrangement on the sand between us and the house just west of us. It was that green garden liners that comes in rolls forming a little runway down to the ocean and a wooden construction about two feet by two feet and 4 inches tall with four pegs with twine between them in a square about a foot by a foot.

We had know idea what it was. I thought it might be one of the games people devise at the beach involving a ball you knocked uphill with a mallet to see who could knock over the most pegs in the fewest strokes--which seemed lamer than the ball roll and sand bag toss games people bring to the beach.

But there was a sign next to it and the first one of us who walked that way on the beach discovered it was a sea turtle egg lay (inside the twine) and a fenced in way to the sea once the eggs hatched.

Last year there were 30 some sea turtle egg nests on Oak Island. This year, there were 110! Sea turtles, like salmon, return to where they were born in lay their eggs. A lot more of the giant creatures came home to Oak Island this year than last. Last year was the first time the Sea Turtle Patrol (a purely volunteer group who watch over the nests) was active. They have a two seat beach vehicle that says "Sea Turtle Patrol" on the side and they have a variety of Sea Turtle Patrol tee shirts. Really kinda cool and fun, but also serious about sea turtle nests.

There are between 80 and 110 eggs in each nest. They find them because the sea turtle mom's make tracks on the beach bigger than your uncle Ed's 1980 Buick would. The Patrol knows when the egg laying season begins and patrols the beaches each morning to find the nests. Then they set up the contraption to make getting to the ocean almost unavoidable for the babies and put up a sign with the laws of North Carolina that levy a $30,000 fine and a year in jail for disturbing a sea turtle nest. God bless the North Carolina legislature for that!

Once the eggs are in the nest it is 55-65 days before the little boogers hatch. The Sea Turtle folks (God bless them too) keeps track and when 55 days has passed, they sit vigil at night at the nests. Bringing beach chairs and their cell phones and tablets, they sit and wait and wait and wait. If they are there when the nest starts exploding, they have a red light to lead the babies down the runway toward the sea and a white light to pretend to be a full moon to get them into the ocean.

They have to swim three days (the turtles, not the Patrol) to hit the Gulf Stream and begin to feed and grow. And 25 years later, those who survive will return to Oak Island to spawn. One woman I talked to from the STP (Sea Turtle Patrol) told me about one in a thousand babies would reach a quarter of century of age and return to lay eggs where they were born. So, of the 22,000 or so sea turtles born this year on Oak Island, about 22 from this year's breeding would return in 2040 to lay eggs. They lay eggs every year after that until they are too old. So the disparity between 30 in 2014 and 110 nests this year means at some point around 1990 a lot more of that batch survived.

The Sea Turtle Patrol is doing all they can to make sure every baby has a fighting chance. For every year before last year, it was much more random how many of them had a chance to survive--some wandered off away from the ocean and died, nests were disturbed by dogs and people, gulls ate them.

They're shells are about the size of a quarter though the legs are disproportionately large. Sherry saw one that hatched ahead of its brood and made it to the ocean.

OK, talking to Sea Turtle Patrol folks all week, I must say I admire them greatly. They could use their time doing something much less noble and good. And I'm rooting for the babies soon to set off from what I've come to think of as 'our nest' and wish them well to the Gulf Stream and for the next quarter century. Just wish I thought I'd bee around in 2040 and be able to welcome them back....who knows...who ever knows about stuff like that?

(Last thought about sea turtles: apparently it depends on the heat of the sand how many females are born. Hotter the sand, more girls. A fear of the STP is that climate change and global warning will make more and more females each year, meaning there will be fewer and fewer males to mate with and that would be the end of the race--the lack of breeding males.

On the human level, I'd just say that females are smarter and more balanced and superior to us men on most every level besides size and strength. If global warming started reducing the breeding males of humans, things would be more stable and sensible for a generation or two--but not good in the long run....)

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.