I'll warn you now - this is going to be a long one. In this blog I want to tell you about one of the most validating experiences of my life so far. On June 6th, the staff and volunteers of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center released 14 healthy endangered and threatened sea turtles back into the wild. It was really moving to get to see the "end" of the rehabilitation cycle after experiencing a lot of the "beginning" and "middle." Certainly the memories from this release will serve as motivation to continue giving my best to the hospital in the coming months.
Experiencing the release was particularly gratifying because of the emotional roller coaster that rehabilitation work has proven to be over the past month I've been working here. The hospital takes so many turtles in, some that are critically injured, or have been sick for a long time. Of these animals, some are beyond the point of benefiting from our care, and we have to let them go. The reason I describe this difficult part of what we do is to emphasize the joy that we all experienced in being able to see some of the animals we care for go free - in fact, it was over half of the animals we had in the hospital. Seeing these animals released doesn't exactly heal the heartbreak we experience for the ones we can't help, but it certainly gives us strength to get through it. Here's some pictures of a few turtles we released that day:
|Durham, a loggerhead, freshly bathed and hanging out while his tank is cleaned and then filled with clean salt water.|
|Myself, Brie Myre, keeping Veteran, a green sea turtle, calm before his final checkup on release day.|
|Waterway, a Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, takes a swim around his tank for the last time.|
|Snaggle, a Kemp's Ridley, ready for a bath on release day.|
We started the day in a semi-normal routine, cutting fish and squid, feeding the turtles their rations (complete with vitamin and calcium supplements), and cleaning out the tanks. The routine didn't exactly feel "routine," though, because of the buzz of excitement that seemed to hang in the air. That buzz was also lined with a hint of anxiety, and many of us took an extra moment with special turtles to prepare ourselves for goodbye.
Most people that volunteer at the sea turtle hospital will say that they have certain turtles that they have bonded with. This typically stems from learning their amazing stories, seeing the injuries or illnesses that they have survived, and putting in a certain amount of personal investment in seeing them recover. It's hard for me to pick a "favorite" at the hospital - but I can say that seeing some of them go free was a bittersweet experience for me. Of course, the end goal of rehabilitation is always to make these animals well so that they can go out, be free once more and make more baby turtles while doing it. The emotionally complicating factor, however, is that you know once you let them go, you can't take care of them anymore, you can't continue to protect them from the dangers of the world and, maybe hardest, you won't see them again.
|Westi, the loggerhead I helped release, comes up for a breath while swimming.|
|Waterway, ready for his exam.|
|Bishop, a Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, reminds us who's boss during his examination.|
At the end of the day, our director and leader Jean Beasley sat the interns down for a reflection period. She asked all the interns to describe the parts of the day that meant the most to them, and when it came to be my turn I came up with two major things. The first, I think, was coming to terms with having my dreams handed to me. What I mean by this is I've wanted this internship for nearly my entire life - and up until that point, being here felt very surreal to me. I felt as though at any moment I would wake up back in Nebraska, as has happened so many times before. Part of that realization was feeling, on this day, interns go from individuals to a team. I know, a little cheesy sounding maybe, but wearing our "Sea Turtle Hospital" t-shirts and surviving the stress, mutual joy and sadness played a big part in cementing us together. I can't describe the crazy high that I experienced while carrying a huge loggerhead turtle in front of a screaming crowd, and knowing that you are one of a very few that get to experience this honor - but we all felt a form of that high that day.
|Volunteers carrying Scuba, our biggest loggerhead, out to his vehicle for transport to the beach.|
|Lead intern, Charlie Lynch, and Brie Myre carry Westi to freedom. Photos courtesy of Topsail Online Facebook page.|
|Veteran, waiting patiently at the beach ready for his big break!|
Oh, and did I mention that release day was also one of my fellow intern's birthday?
|He's the big 2-0!|