Friday, April 12, 2013

Dear Diary: My Summer Saving Sea Turtles

There's been a lot going on in the past two months - I've accepted a full-ride offer to attend Southeastern Louisiana University in the fall studying under Dr. Roldan Valverde, a leading expert on Kemp's Ridley sea turtles and 2013 president of the International Sea Turtle Society. I'm very excited about all that awaits me there - a MS in biology, a project focused on sea turtle physiology, grant writing, teaching, and a new place to live for the next two years. 

I have a lot to write about in regard to my recent visit to the National Marine Life Center and about new goals I've set in my life - but for now I just want to share a journal entry that I wrote during my time at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital last summer. I came across it today, and it brought me right back to Topsail Island and the sea turtle patients I worked with there. I hope that reading it helps you see the passion that I felt for the turtles I worked with, which I believe is representative of the passion that all the volunteers at the hospital feel for sea turtles. It's this passion and love that drives everything I'm doing to prepare myself for this exciting and meaningful career path.

June 2, 2012
Dear Diary, 
The turtles have stolen my heart. It's hard to write about because it's hard to do it justice. How can you explain how it feels to dream of something your whole life and then suddenly be waist deep in it? It's completely exhausting and overwhelming, it's hard to internalize that it's finally here - but when you look down and realize that you have an endangered species depending on your care - it has a big impact. 

We are being trusted with a great responsibility and I don't take it lightly. But with all the heavy stuff, I experience such great joy feeding them, scrubbing their shells clean, watching them swim. even chores like cleaning filters and washing dishes and doing laundry are fun with you do it in the name of turtles. 

I love them when they're grumpy. We are a hospital. They are our patients. Some are more tolerant than others, but we love them all. We love them for being calm and trusting, in that way that sea turtles sometimes are, we love them for being feisty and difficult, in that way that has allowed them to survive through so many world changes. We love the gentle giants, the not-so-gentle giants, we love the spunky babies. We feed and clean them, we treat their ailments, we assist the healing process and encourage them to hold on to their desire to live when they are at their weakest. But most of all, we do whatever it takes to get these animals back out into the ocean to be free and make new turtles. 

Today we swam Holiday (a baby green turtle hit by a boat) and fed her, then took her out to treat her wounds, and man, was she whipping her flippers like she had one thing on her mind - the freedom of the limitless ocean. It's so great to see her in a fighting mood - trying to bite and escape - it's how you know she's feeling better after spending the first few days entirely too still. 

I loved putting Bishop (the fiestiest of Kemp's Ridleys) on the table to hear him croak out a protest - he sounded just like a frog! He was not going to be silent about his discontent.

I like how I have to wake up Freeman (big loggerhead) by dragging the net through his tank before I can feed him because he likes sleeping in. A turtle after my own heart!

I like talking to Roanoke while letting the betadine soak into her poor, mottled shell. 

I love how RC attacks his food and always checks out what you're doing when you walk by, expecting you to produce an extra piece of squid, or watching him "work out" in his tank by swimming. I loved watching NC chase the live crab we dropped in there. 

I love restraining IC, the butterball, because she's always trying to escape. I love how Westy always attacks the broom when you're pumping the water out of her tank or how Friday loves splashing you if you stand still long enough. I love how Scuter wiggles his butt if you scratch the right place on the back of his shell. 

I also just have a lot of respect for the volunteers and staff who work here. My summer's going to be great. 


You can learn more about the turtles I mentioned in this post on where there are pictures and stories of all the sea turtle patients that come through the hospital. Please also consider making a donation if you're willing and able, for the hospital receives no government assistance and relies solely on donations from the public. 

A certain inspiring woman and sea turtle expert I know talks about "turtle karma." Like, if you love and care for sea turtles, good things will come to you. I believe I'm experiencing some turtle karma with all the good luck I've had in my search for graduate schools, and I'm hoping that I will be able to continue giving back as time goes on. Now - I'm off to continue my day, but I'll be back soon to update you on more of my adventures, and maybe I will be posting more diary entries from my summer if I find some more good ones. Take care.

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