Going toward the light.

You can spot her traveling south along Ponte Vedra Beach every morning at sunrise. She rides a four wheeled ATV equipped with a large plastic bucket, several pieces of lathe, flashlights, an assortment of shovels and other tools for digging in the sand. She wears a straw hat, comfortable flip flops and a blue collared shirt with the ” Turtle Patrol” logo directly over her heart. She greets the early morning beach walkers with or without their dogs with a nod and a smile as she journeys along the beach inspecting her charge, the nests of the amazing mother sea turtles that have chosen her territory as a safe place to bury their eggs.

During the two month incubation period she acts as protectress by constructing wooden fences surrounding each nest and marks it  with orange plastic tape to warn humans to stay at least 25 yards away. Each morning at dawn she searches for trails in the sand heading toward the water, or  for evidence of tampering of the nests by predators such as birds, crabs, dogs, or worse, a vandal.  For these two months during the gestation period she will watch over them until they have safely made their way to the sea where they will spend their whole life, often more than thirty years, their age at maturity.

All species of the sea turtle are on the endangered list and are classified in the Class Reptilia, subclass Anapsid orders Chelonii and Dermochelyidae.  There are seven recognized species,the loggerhead, the hawkbill, the green flatback, Kemp’s ridley, Olive ridley and the leatherback.  Of the seven species, three; greens, leatherbacks and loggerheads nest locally. They are protected by state and local ordinances many of which are not well known, especially to tourists who frequent our beaches. Because the tiny hatchlings travel toward the light reflected off the ocean, it is important to turn off or shield all outside lighting after 9PM and use window coverings on windows that face the beach. You should not use a flashlight on the beach, or leave toys or chairs near a nest that might impede them from their destination. Even new construction along Florida beaches is monitored by the Corp. of Engineers to insure exterior and interior lighting does not disturb the turtles.

On morning Lisa and I stopped to talk to the sea turtle lady and found her to be very friendly and informative.  In a two or three minute conversation she explained a little sea turtle 101 telling us how the journey from the nest to the sea was a difficult one for the 80 to 160 hatchlings deposited into each nest. The movement of their small legs in the sand trains them to swim, so “helping” them to the water could mean death to a small untrained sea turtle.  Once they reach the water they might float and swim near the shore until the tides wash them further out to sea.  She spoke with love and intelligence about her passion and we both were happy the turtles who come to our stretch of beach had someone as caring as she to watch over them.

So, please be aware of the nests and be certain to join with the Turtle Patrol in protecting this wonderful sea creature from extinction.

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