Graduate Student UNC - Department of Biology
There is a notion that if you’re truly passionate about something, you’ll discover it at a young age. This saying is usually referenced alongside famous artists, such as Picasso, who could draw before he could talk, and Mozart who began performing music at just six years old. Similarly to Picasso and Mozart, I discovered my passion at a young age, just six years old, but that’s where the similarities end, because my passion is sea turtle biology and conservation.
Studying sea turtles has taken me across the globe, to places like Australia, to London, England, and Costa Rica, but it all began right here in North Carolina, at Holden Beach. Originally, I hail from the frozen tundra that is upstate NY, but my family and I were frequent visitors to the coast of North Carolina. Our favorite beach to visit was Holden Beach, and one of my favorite things to do at the beach was to get up at sunrise with my mom and go walk the beach to look for seashells. These seashell hunts were always special, because I loved spending the time with my mom, and I really loved adding the moon snail, the whelk, the tulip snail, and the scallop shells to my collection.
However, one morning at the beach, this seashell walk was even more exciting than the usual because along our walk we ran into some sea turtle conservationists attending to a sea turtle nest. I was very curious about these sea turtle nests, because we had already passed a few caged nests, and in my six short years I had never seen such a contraption - a large metal cage with a wooden stake and sign- on the beach. Because I was so curious, my mom and I went up to the conservationists to ask exactly what they were doing. As it so happened, they were going to be excavating that very nest that same night, to ensure any turtles remaining within the nest made it to the ocean. My eyes grew to be about three times their size and I kept tugging on my mom’s hand, because I wanted to come back and see the turtles make it to the ocean.
The sea turtle conservationists told us the only requirement to attend was to bring red flashlights. Why the red lights? Well sea turtle hatchlings use moonlight, which is white, to find the ocean, and if we were to use white flashlights, we may disorient the hatchlings, and cause them to wander towards the dunes, towards houses, or just circle endlessly on the sand until they are eaten by a ghost crab or a bird, or even fire ants.
Almost as soon as we turned around we saw my grandparents coming up the beach. I ran to my grandmother and told her about the sea turtle nest, and she said “ well, we have to go then!”, regardless of the fact that we were supposed to be celebrating her birthday that night. After sunset my entire family, which included my mom, dad, aunt, uncle, brother, cousins, grandparents, and I, made the trek from our beach house to the turtle nest. When we arrived we saw that the sea turtle conservationists had dug a tunnel out of sand from the nest down to the water line. As they began to dig out the nest, they explained how sea turtles are endangered, they explained that very few of the little hatchlings that we were about to see would make it from the nest to adulthood, and they reminded us to keep all lights off and to only use our red flashlights.
Finally, the digging into the nest was complete and then the real excitement began - there were live hatchlings in the nest, and all those in attendance were going to be able to LEAD A HATCHLING down the sand runway! One by one we each got to lead a hatchling down the runway with a red flashlight. The hatchlings were so small, and they were very dopey - crawling crookedly and slowly with their giant flippers. It took all of ten minutes to lead a hatchling from the nest, down the sandy runway, to the sea, but it was ten minutes I have never forgotten. In those ten minutes, my love of the ocean was solidified, and I was determined from that point onwards to save the sea turtles.
Little did I know it, but witnessing the journey of these hatchlings on Holden Beach, from their nest to the sea, was just the beginning of my sea turtle adventures. The next chapter would take me to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, where another set of unforgettable memories would be formed.