Last summer, my family and I went to Jekyll Island, Georgia. The wonderful people at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center called me a few days before we were scheduled to go out with them on a Night Patrol. The kind lady told me they had no female turtles coming on the beach for a few nights in a row and wondered if we were willing to do a Dawn Patrol instead. It was early in the season, but there were a few sea turtle nests that could hatch if we went, but no guarantees. Either way, what an education for my girls and my husband and me, so of course, we said yes.
We were up before the sun, which is hard for teens on vacation, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) workers equipped us with bright green vests to shout to the world “they are with us”. The GSTC ladies drove us up and down the beach, each one taking turns jumping out of the 4-wheeler to record the number of the nest and record whether there were any predators or any other disturbances, people or other turtles. Sometimes, other females will lay eggs right next to an existing nest. We found one nest that had hatched, and the workers began digging the nest up to count how many hatched and unhatched turtle eggs there were. It was amazing to see the hatched eggs and how rubbery they were, not all like the chicken eggs my grandfather plucked from the nests. They put the hatched eggs back in the nest after counting and covered it back up. On to the next nests. We went on like this for a couple of hours, lots of nests, record numbers that year, the girls said.
The morning was getting later and hotter and finally one couple came running up to the GSTC workers, they saw some turtles hatching! The workers said most hatching were early in the morning and it was nearly 11 am, and hot, really hot. These turtles were coming out of the nest and scurrying toward the water. I had my camera explicitly for this, and have to admit, I didn’t take as many photos as I would like, but I will never forget that.
Nothing makes you feel small like watching these tiny creatures rush to the wide ocean. Several struggling turtles that hatched and crawled from the nest did not make it to the water. And some that hatched, crawled from the nest and to the water, did not swim. But, the ones that made it to the water, ducked their heads and swam on, took my breath away.