The Art of Watching

By Karey Burek

It was midnight and I was getting tired.  Really tired.  I had worked all day, raced home to eat and then headed out to the beach to sit and wait. My sidekick Steve had done the same.  There we were, sitting and waiting, hoping that tonight would be the night that the loggerhead nestlings would hatch.  We had been sitting out there every night for the past week with the same disappointing results.  But tonight felt different.  Maybe it was because the wind wasn’t blowing as hard, or that the tide was low, but something just felt different.  

From down the beach we spotted some bright red lights. We knew that Glenn was on his way. Glenn is one of the biologists who specialize in sea turtles at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  He makes daily and nightly runs up and down the beaches of Pinellas County monitoring the nests.  Steve and I had been sitting on Sand Key Beach for a week, me driving from Palm Harbor and he driving from St. Pete.  We saw Glenn every night, and as he came up to our nest on this night, we held our breath.  We wanted our long drives to be worth it.

Glenn took a look at the nest and said that it was ready.  Finally we would be rewarded for our lack of sleep. He scooped all the hatchlings out and we began our work.  From each nest that hatches, a sample of 25 are weighed and measured.  We began this process, and I noticed that most of the hatchlings were close to the same size.  After the sample was taken, Glenn counted all the hatchlings, placing each one in the large container.  We ended up with 96 hatchlings!  It is amazing to think that only 1 out of 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood.  

I looked at the tangled pile of hatchlings, feeling good that we had helped raise their chance of survival by making sure they made it into the Gulf safely.  While I was taking a moment to stare at these little creatures, Glenn and Steve were creating a trench about five feet from the waters edge.  The trench is what keeps the turtles in a contained area, so they follow one another into the water.  Sometimes, the hatchlings become confused by the artificial lights from the condominiums on these beaches and head away from the water.  

The trench was finished; it was time to let the hatchlings go.  I gently emptied the container and we watched them march down towards the waves.  They all made it to the water and one wave came in and swept them all away, to begin their journey of survival.  And just like that, it was over.  Hours of waiting for minutes of a payoff; it was worth every second.

This experience was one of the most amazing things that I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of.  I know that I have not done it justice with my words, because the hatchlings left me speechless.  That night gave me a sense of hope — because of the work that Glenn and the other biologists do, and the time put in by volunteers, these turtles have a better chance to survive.

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