Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Look Back at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: 2

The Laguna Key Team of Share the Beach made history this afternoon--or, rather, our baby turtles did. B-1, our first Laguna Key nest of the season and the first turtle nest discovered on the Alabama coast this year, is in transport as I write.

This nest has had a rough start. Mama T nested a bit too close to the oiled water, and our careful and devoted team moved the 127 eggs against the dune for protection from weather, predators, and oil. After much political and scientific debate, the decision was made to begin transporting the Gulf loggerhead turtle nests to the Atlantic side of Florida, where they may have a fighting chance of survival. Today amidst a media circus (which including Jeff Corwin broadcasting with both MSNBC and Animal Planet) our team gently dug down into the nest, packed up the original sand, moved the sand from each egg, marked the shells, and carefully placed them one at a time in styrofoam coolers. Anytime we touch turtle eggs they are handled with extreme caution, as if we are holding nitroglycerin. We moved the coolers to a specially formatted FedEx truck and said our prayers and sang them a song and sent them on their way with tears in our eyes. It is very scary: will they survive the move? How will they hatch in a monitored lab? Will they be carefully and delicately handled? Will it hurt them to have a marker hole bored into their shells? And mostly, how will they handle a cold Atlantic jolt when Gulf loggerheads generally hatch into nearly 80 degree water? The life of a turtle hatchling is full of uncertainty and only a tiny fraction ever survive; these turtles at least will have a fighting chance.

Here is the educational and sentimental letter that was sent along with the nests, in addition to disposable cameras, chocolate turtles for the handlers, and a number of other goodies. It was written by Debbie Willis, or, as you'll see, the turtle hatchlings. It made me cry. A lot. You have to understand that it is very emotional for us. We find these nests, we care for them, we monitor their progress, watch and help them hatch and emerge from the nest, and bid them goodbye only as they hit the water and swim away with their furiously flipping tiny flippers. When we look at these eggs now, they are just one tiny aspect of the affected environment. All we can do is help on a small scale as the oil continues to pour into our Gulf. It is overwhelming to think on the large scale and when you do, it makes for an emotional and mental mini breakdown. But if we can save even one of those babies from our little nest, that's something.

Dear Mama T,

Hey Mama, so much has happened since you crawled ashore and left us alone on this Alabama beach. This real nice group of people found us. I think they call themselves the Laguna Key Team with Share the Beach. It was your tracks which led them to us. They said your crawl was 39 inches wide and 30 feet from the water. What they did next was look for "fluffed" sand in hopes of finding us. Digging can be real dangerous to us if they use a sharp object so they use the sides of their hands. Being careful is their goal.

You wouldn't believe how excited they were when they located your clutch! Did you know we were the first nest found on Alabama beaches this year? They all seemed so saddened because they needed to relocate us to even higher ground above the wrack line. It seems that something called the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has them very worried about us. We heard them say that we could die if oily water was allowed to enter our nest. Oh Mama, we don't want to perish after you labored so hard to put us here. We know you did everything you could to keep us from harm.

We were wondering about your health out there in the Gulf of Mexico, Mama. How are you surviving in that oil? What are you eating? Can you find clean water anywhere? We guess your instincts made you come here despite the oil, just to do what you were born to do. We love you.

We almost forgot to tell you this one and it is something big. These really nice kind people measured your nest including depth and circumference, and then dug one identical to yours. Then each one of us was picked up, one by one, never rolled, and placed into a bucket with the same sand you so lovingly laid us in. Wow, they put us in the new nest just like we were in the original nest! This group of "new parents" placed a grate over us and marked the center of the nest. The grate is supposed to keep out predators. We never did care for crabs, coyotes, or foxes. They think we taste good. Next they put up stakes with green ribbon to mark us so we look really special on the beach. We have an identification placard that lets visitors know we are protected and they can't mess with us or they will get in big trouble.

Mama, have you ever heard of the news media? They are everywhere--always asking questions. Your nest has been all over the news. We were on all the local channels, WKRG, WPMI, WALA, and some of the nationals. I think I heard NBC, CNBC, and ABC. Who would have ever thought when you left us here in the dark of the night that we would cause such a commotion?

Well Mom, the big day is today. We are being relocated to a place called Florida, Cape Canaveral, or something like that. Another group of people with Fish and Wildlife are going to work with our turtle tenders here in Gulf Shores to relocate all of your eggs to a place without that oil in the water. It's really sad for us; these turtle people have loved us so and guarded our nest with nothing but true love in their souls. I hear they have a great time nest sitting waiting for us to hatch and run to the water. They are saying the Gulf is not safe for us and we do not stand any chance for survival. Mom, that's true love. Well a FedEx truck, whatever that may be, is going to take us in our styrofoam crates to a place in Florida to hatch. We are scared -- everything from now on is unknown. We hope to see you in the Gulf Stream one day.

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