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|Florida: Sebastian, Family Vacation Fun Making a Turtle Quest.
As the lavender hues caressed the Atlantic waves we anxiously awaited our turtle quest. We knew the night quest would be awesome but waiting for the stars to appear and the evening to begin was tedious. During the summer months sea turtles return to the beach of their birth to deposit eggs and complete the circle of life. For a lucky few, there is the possibility of seeing firsthand the ancient nesting ritual of a sea turtle.
Finally it was time. It began with an introduction that engaged everyone in the group. Questions were encouraged and we were all eager to know more about the night’s turtle quest. The rangers from Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge continued to respond with facts and anecdotes that only helped build the suspense. Knowing the plan reduced the amount of talking later when we were on the beach.
Be prepared to wait. The night was still; the moonlight marked the ocean’s surface creating a shimmering silver pathway from the horizon to the beach. Our group included ages 10 to 78, each with a desire to witness the sea turtle nesting ritual. We waited at the end of the boardwalk, speaking only in whispers and listening to the erratic sounds of walkie-talkies somewhere in the distance. (I imagined we could be part of a sciece fiction thriller - except for the white sneakers.) We were not walking, not yet. We were waiting and straining to see any change in the horizon, a break in the water surface, a change in the wave pattern.
There was no guarantee. Our first reward came early in the evening as the words ‘loggerhead to the south’ interrupted the static of our guide’s two-way radio. Our turtle quest began. Heading south in silence along the beach, we could see red pin light signaling the location of our first turtle spotted on the quest.
Stopping short of the turtle’s tracks, we waited and watched as she selected a location at the edge of the dunes. The moonlight provided us with enough light to watch while remaining undetected. Slowly and methodically she began to dig her nest. Sand flailed. We waited. The smell of insect repellent and sea air enveloped our cadre of curious observers. No one spoke. The rhythmic sound of the waves seemed the perfect soundtrack for the event.
Seeing is believing. Once the loggerhead began dropping her eggs, our guide motioned us to form a semi circle. Her barnacle-clad shell reflected her age. Mature was the word used by our guide. As she began to release her eggs we were allowed to move closer for a better view. Our guide, a veteran of 16 seasons, used a red light to enhance the nesting area. Our ranger spoke in a steady documentary style voice the event was awesome. We steped back, and remained motionless and silent she covered and tamped her eggs then slowly retreated to the sea. I feel like Yanni should have been playing on my Ipod.
All night long. Our turtle-seeking night continued with two more sightings. As before we waited for the cue before approaching the nesting event and cautiously made our retreat allowing the turtle to return to the sea. I think my mom and I could have stayed all night. It was so very cool - the soft wind and continuous waves, shadows and moon light, the anticipaiton and the sightings - Mother Nature at her best.
Green turtle at midnight!
However our quest concluded at midnight with a rare chance to observe a green turtle. Smaller than the earlier arrivals she moved even higher on the dunes and seemed to master her ritual with precision. Her arrival caused many of the sea turtle volunteers to join our group. Because green turtles are on the Endangered Species List, her presence on the beach seemed even more awesome - no one even whispered.
As we departed the beach volunteers were discussing the marking of nests and cataloging beach tracks by species. It was a special night and for the young children in our group it was a field trip extraordinaire. For everyone it was memory making. As we walked in silence my thoughts went to Dr. Suess - not becuase of Green Eggs and Ham but for one of his many memorable thoughts on conservation. "And the turtles of course...all the turtles are free. As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be."
What happened next? I learned from our guide that incubation period varies but in about 60 days the hatchings emerge and head for the sea. Some in our group made plans to return to see the outcome of our turtle quest. Others discussed adopting a sea turtle and staying connected with the natural wonders of the evening. I am looking forard to my next turtle quest hopefully I can convince my grandmother to stay up late just one.
Make plans to share the have fun.
Indian River County on Florida’s Central East Coast is loaded with delightfully affordable family vacation ideas. The area includes Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmer. (772) 567-3491, ext.110 or go to www.indianriverchamber.com
Planning Details. Sea turtles have existed since the time of the dinosaurs and the timeless nesting ritual is an awesome event to view. Florida’s Central East Coast has the greatest concentration of nesting turtles in the USA, so opportunities for viewing exist. Public turtle walks are conducted from May through August but turtle watch programs are popular and the number of people allowed to participate is limited. An advance reservation is essential. Advice: Attire for the adventure includes a head covering, long pants, a long sleeve shirt, shoes and socks as well as insect repellent and patience. Turtle walks do not come with guarantees. Children as young as six may enjoy the experience but it is essential that they are able to stay up late without complaining and follow specific directions which include not speaking above a whisper.
Sea Turtle Connections
Melbourne Beach: Sebastian Inlet State Recreation Area.
(561)589-2147, (321)984-4852 or www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet
Melbourne Beach: The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.
. The Archie Carr Refuge is the nation's most important loggerhead sea turtle nesting site. The refuge is a 20-mile stretch of beach and coastal dune habitat along Florida's east coast. In June and July 3-hour sea turtle walks are conducted. At Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, the program for public viewing is conducted with stealth like skill. The process allows for both education and encounters. Each evening is unique and there are no turtle guarantees. But from June through August the likelihood is great and the experience awesome. Reservations are required by calling Sebastian Inlet State Park at (321) 984-4852. Accessible via A1A from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso, Exit 69 or 70 off I-95. Hwy A1A Melbourne Beach, FL 32951 (772) 562-3909 or http://archiecarr.fws.gov
Melbourne Beach: Sea Turtle Preservation Society. (321) 984-3599, (321) 676-1701 or www.seaturtlespacecoast.org
New Smyrna Beach: Canaveral National Seashore Information Center. 7611 South Atlantic Avenue, (904)428-3384.
Titusville: Canaveral National Seashore & Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. (407)267-1110 or 308 Julia Street, 32796. www.nbbd.com/godo/cns
Indianatlantic: Brevard County Sea Turtle Watch. (321) 676-1701 or www.cccturtle.org
Hutchinson Island: Florida Power & Light (FPL) Energy Encounter & Marine Education Center. Toll-free 1-800-334-5483 (Florida only) after
North Palm Beach: John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. 10900 State Road 703. (407)624-6952 or www.macarthurbeach.org
Fort Lauderdale: Museum of Discovery and Science.
Within the museum a visible nest of live, incubating eggs is on display. 401 SW Second Street, 33312. (954)467-6637, ext. 3511 or www.mods.org
For a list of the statewide locations with permits to conduct turtle walks as well as a map of the walk locations go to www.floridaconservation.org
Caribbean Conservation Corporation. "Through the Sea Turtle Survival League's education program, thousands of people around the U.S. and the world, especially school children, can follow the migrations of sea turtles and learn about them, the threats they face and how to take part in helping to ensure their survival, " explained David Godfrey, executive director for the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. The satellite tracking research will help provide a factual basis for policy decisions that may have a huge impact on the loggerheads, the greens and the other magnificent threatened and endangered sea turtles.
Adopt a sea turtle.
The Caribbean Conservation Corporation has several named turtles with satellite transmitters attached to the back of their shells. This allows us to use space age technology to learn more about their migratory behavior. When you adopt a satellite-tagged turtle, you can track the turtle's movements through the website! 4424 NW 13th St. Suite #A1 Gainesville, 32609. (352) 373-6441,toll-free 1-800-678-7853 or http://www.cccturtle.org
Sea Turtle Hot Line. If you find a dead or injured sea turtle toll-free 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).
Information and images provided by FTF staff. Original trip experience completed by Jule Nelson-Duac and her mom. Featue updated 2014.