The Island Turtle Team

If you’ve ever been to the beach during the summer, you’ve probably seen three or four wooden stakes roped off with orange tape somewhere high up in the sand dunes. Hopefully, you noticed a little sign telling you that those stakes and tape meant that a sea turtle nest was buried beneath the sand.IMG_0934

(May 2018, Isle of Palms, SC)

Growing up, we vacationed on Edisto Island, SC, and I’ve seen those turtle nests for years. When I got a little older and we were on Edisto towards the end of summer, I observed that some nests had been prepared for hatching—someone had taken black plastic and created a sort of “designated path” around the nest so that when the hatchlings emerged, they would (hopefully) be guided down to the ocean. In all those years of spending two weeks on Edisto at the end of every summer, I never once got to see a nest hatch!

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(Hilton Head Island, SC 2018 in the Sea Pines Beach Resort area)

Fast-forward a couple of years. I moved to the Charleston area and discovered Mary Alice Monroe, a NY Times Bestselling author who just happened to live in on Isle of Palms. I picked up her book, The Summer Girls, on a whim at a local grocery store when we were headed to the beach. I didn’t realize that it was one of a series of books until I started reading. After that, I began to read Monroe’s books as quickly as I could get my hands on them, and that’s when I found her Beach House series. Beach House was really my first exposure to the Island Turtle Team, and I learned all about what the “turtle ladies” do from the characters in this spellbinding novel. (If you haven’t read it, do it now! It’s a captivating story, and it will evoke so many emotions from you.) After finishing the book, I found the Island Turtle Team website and contact information and quickly fired off an email, asking how I could become a “turtle lady”. The response I got was disheartening; there was a waiting list to join the team and I would have a better chance of making the team if I lived on either Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island (where the local Island Turtle Team patrols daily during nesting season)

Fast forward eighteen more months…at this point, I was living only a few miles from both IOP and SI—and I was writing part-time for the island newspaper, The Island Eye News. I had to contact some of the Turtle Team members about something related to an article, so I decided to ask about joining the team again. This time, I was told that though the list was pretty full, they could likely find a spot for me! (Between you and me, I think the fact that I worked for the island newspaper was in my favor). Just a few weeks later (earlier this Spring) I attended orientation for the Turtle Team, and let me tell you—this is a serious endeavor. Turtle Team volunteers log hours with the DNR, and their work helps preserve the sea turtle population in our oceans. It’s really incredible, and now I get to be a part of this! After training, I just waited for an email—a call to arms, if you will. Once the first nest was discovered in the area (it was on Dafuskie Island this year) in our area, we began our patrols.

Every Tuesday morning at daybreak, I walk Station 19-29 on Sullivan’s Island, searching for turtle tracks. Once nests are laid in my section, I’ll check on them when I patrol. Lastly, we also keep an eye out for sea turtle strandings (if an injured or dead sea turtle washes up on our shores).

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(Daybreak on Sullivan’s Island, SC 2018)

Walking on the beach so early in the morning is one of the most peaceful, therapeutic things I’ve done in a long time. On my first turtle patrol, I witnessed a breathtaking sunrise but found no turtle tracks. I walked 3.5 miles and let me tell you—walking in sand is much tougher than walking on asphalt. I was so tired afterwards, but I still had to go to work at 8am! Next time, I’ll go to bed earlier the night before. I also sweated a LOT, so thank goodness for dry shampoo!

Anyways…I’m really looking forward to what the summer holds. Of course I hope I’ll find tracks and nests in my area, but I know that I may not. I hope that all the islands have lots of nests this year, and I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to give back in some small way—even if it’s only two hours a week. I look at it like this: I visit these beaches at least once a week, and this is my small contribution to my community. Plus, I might get to see a sea turtle nest hatch (fingers crossed)!

Interesting Fact: 1 out of every 1000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

Another interesting fact: About two years ago, I went kayaking in Shem Creek (a popular area off the Charleston Harbor where shrimp boats dock. There are lots of waterfront restaurants and a lot of boaters come in to have drinks or eat). While we were waiting to get in our kayaks, a turtle surfaced momentarily in the creek and looked at me! I don’t know what sort of turtle it was, but it went back under the water so quickly. I only hope it made it back out to the ocean safely!IMG_0841(This is a loggerhead sea turtle that is being rehabilitated at the SC Aquarium. This is the type of turtle that nests most often in our area)

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