We do get involved in some crazy things, no doubt about it. There was a mass turtle stranding in our area of the panhandle in Florida where we were staying. The last time this happened was in 2006. All the sea turtle people around Florida were out seeking cold stunned turtles due to the bizarre cold weather from the polar vortex. The turtle get too cold and then end up unable to move floating on the surface. Many drown when they can no longer move enough to even lift their heads up to take a breath. Some end up washed up like debris on the shore where certain death awaits. If the cold doesn’t kill them, predators or dehydration will. Any turtle that could be found could be brought in and warmed and saved to be released when the cold spell passed.
A call went out for folks who could walk the beaches to look for stranded turtles. We were among those who answered the call. Here we are, with other volunteers and staff from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, getting our marching orders from Cypress Rudloe and “how to help a cold stunned turtle” safety information.
We then drove off to Appalachacola with our crew to meet Captain Ron and his Mrs, Cynthia, of Dream On Charters at the boat dock there. I really appreciated my long johns and Canadian style layering as we raced across the gulf to a small island called Cape St George Island Wildlife Preserve. Hubby dearest and I were assigned the northern side of the island an area with some white sand beaches and lots of muddy tide flats. We were given a folding wagon to transport any turtles we found.
The day was cool to start but we were warmed by the sun. We had been told to especially check the grass and debris at the high tide line. Our trip was set to coincide with the low tide. We were also told to watch the surf but there isn’t a lot of surf on the inside (mainland side) of the island where the water is shallow and filled with the kind of grass beds green sea turtles love to graze in.
The island is a preserve so there was no one else beyond our team on it and we saw no signs of human life. The island is hardly deserted though as we found bear scat and coyote tracks. We didn’t see any of those.
We arrived far too late for this poor little turtle. But them a miracle happened! We saw a flipper moving weakly in the air above a clump of seaweed.
We found one poor turtle barely able to move from the cold. We carefully moved the turtle into the transport wagon and continued looking for more survivors.
In total we walked 10 kilometres (or six miles). We only found one living turtle but we were so happy to be able to save even one. As we walked, we kept the turtle in the sunshine as much as possible to help warm him. The more we walked the warmer he got and he began moving around. If only it had been warmer we could have let him go right then and there instead of lugging him around but the water was only 45F and he needed to be brought in for a vet check and full warming at GSML. Finally, when we had gone 5 kilometres in one direction we hit an inlet where the water was too deep to continue on. We contacted our team’s fearless leader and discovered the boat could not come in close so we would have to return to our starting point for pick up. I tried not to have a good cry and only just succeeded. Then we started back. By now the tide was coming in and the flats were getting wetter and the ground softer. We went as fast as we could to get off the rapidly vanishing tide flats and back to more solid beaches. We had a rest for a bit once we were back on the stable beach and then we continued our slog. Whenever I wanted to stop I looked at the little turtle and carried on.
Finally, taking turns with the wagon and encouraging each other and breaking for water and snacks, we got back to our starting point. We had company as we waited for the boat.
The heron is kind of a family symbol often appearing at significant and important events in my husband’s life. We only half jokingly refer to the Great Blue as his totem so we took the presence of one at the landing area to be a sign of karmic approval. Now that we were safe and secure and just had to wait for the boat, we felt a lot better. It also helped that we didn’t have to walk anymore. After about a 30 minute wait our ride back to the mainland came. I passed our turtle guest up to Captain Ron and we all felt great pride that we had succeeded. By the time the boat arrived the little turtle had warmed enough to flap and struggle. That made us all feel better. The turtle then went into an insulated box and since the sun was rapidly setting, he got covered with an insulated blanket.
As if to confirm karmic blessings we were escorted all the way back to the mainland by several dolphins who put on a fine show for us, playing in our wake and giving us dolphin laughs. I enjoyed the show a lot.
When we arrived at the dock we were delighted to pass custody of the sea turtle to one of our team members, Brian, and let him take the turtle back to the lab. Hubby Dearest and I went for pizza on St George Island before heading home. We were REALLY hungry and REALLY sore and REALLY tired. Neither one of us have walked 10 kilometres in a long time. But we were so happy and we felt so good. It had been a grand adventure and so worth it!
The next morning I got to the lab to check on “our” green sea turtle and I arrived at the lab just in time to see the turtle go into the tank and swim about, fully recovered. The turtle was designated #36 (of 48 rescues). He or she (you can’t tell at this age) got a clean bill of health from the vet yesterday. As soon as it has warmed up enough to be safe for the little turtle to go back to the sea, it will be released.
And we saved him!