As the summer winds down, and parents and kids prepare for a more regulated and carefully calculated school year, here at Marine CSI, our Director of Education is hard at work juggling updating lesson materials to CDC guidelines and being a sea turtle nest volunteer. Being a part of a volunteer organization for twelve summers, Kimberly has dedicated her evening hours to sitting on the beach, waiting for baby sea turtle hatchlings to emerge from their nests.
Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project has been around for over 30 years, helping to conserve several species of sea turtles, including Loggerhead, Kemp's Ridley, Green, and Leatherback. They educate visitors and residents to Carolina and Kure Beaches all year long, but volunteers are especially active June through September when turtles are nesting and hatching on the beach. Over the last two years, Kimberly has become a nest leader in charge of several nest teams to make sure hatchlings get to the water safely.
As we look ahead to the next few days and Tropical Storm Isaias, Kimberly's role of protecting sea turtle eggs and hatchlings has been upgraded from nest leader to nest protector. If standing water stays in a sea turtle nest too long, the eggs become water-logged, and the developing hatchlings will drown. Also, when so much of a beach has been eroded away by the tides and storm surge, nests can be eroded as well, exposing the eggs to the surf.
Although hurricanes have destroyed plenty of sea turtle nests over millions of years, sea turtles still nest year after year during hurricane season. Yet, with the increase in human activity on our shores, it's been a bit more difficult for sea turtles to survive. So organizations have formed in order to protect as many sea turtle nests as possible. Nest teams of about ten to twelve people are set up to care for incubating eggs each night for a few hours and make sure every last hatchling has made it securely into the sea.
Over twelve years, Kimberly has had her share of amazing sea turtle experiences and memories. One in particular was the first leatherback sea turtle nest on Carolina Beach in over twenty years. Nest volunteers took four-hour shifts to take care of this precious nest and when they finally hatched out, seventy palm-sized turtles made their way to the ocean. After ten days of watching the nest intently, it was a wonderfully perfect sight.
This year, as a nest leader, the experience does not come without its hardship or its hard work and dedication. To prepare for a hurricane or tropical storm, nests need to be bermed up. That means, a wall of sand needs to be placed in front of the nest to protect it from the coming storm surge. Before a wall is put in place, though, there needs to be enough sand around the nest. When it is being battered by the sea, and the nest is being threatened by severe erosion, nest leaders do whatever they can to protect the eggs from being washed away.
As the tide fiercely rolled in, we were fighting wave after wave in order to excavate (or dig up) the eggs. During incubation, developing turtles are attached to the wall of the egg. If they become detached, they cannot continue to grow. Imagine trying to carefully pull eggs from a waterlogged nest and place them in a bucket of sand without turning them upside down! As one wave crashed up and over the sea turtle rescuers, Kimberly grabbed the bucket and held it high, making sure it didn't get swept away with the tide. The sand was wet and hard, but as nest leaders, they were able to rescue 91 eggs from that nest.
Since they are still developing in their eggs, it is hard to say how many of them will hatch when the time comes. We are so very proud of our Director of Education for dedicating her time to rescuing and caring for sea turtles. Without her and the other members of her team, 91 hatchlings would not have been given a fighting chance at survival.