Before our Sea Turtle Protection interns said goodbye to the beaches of Bald Head Island, Sea Turtle Biologist Paul Hillbrand asked each intern to summarize their summer, and the memories and sea turtles that they will remember most fondly. Here’s what Abby, Bo, Kelsey and Kayla had to share:
I have fallen on the beach at least once every night this summer. On flat surfaces, on the scarp, and especially while crawling up the dunes to take measurements. While I have two legs and practice walking on land, our turtles must use their flippers to crawl along the beach and find the perfect spot to lay their nest.
However, that doesn’t stop them from reaching new heights and continuing to surprise us with the obstacles they can overcome. One of our Legacy turtles, Turquoise, has an affinity for crawling into hard to reach places. The first time I met her, she crawled all the way up through the dunes, before deciding the spot wasn’t for her and heading back into the ocean to try again. For her next nest, Turquoise decided that she would crawl over the sandbags at the Shoals Club. The last night she nested, Turquoise left us with a party hat made of sand.
Turquoise continues to be one of my favorite turtles from this season because of her indefatigable efforts towards finding the perfect nest spot and her quirky personality. She’s been an inspiration to me throughout the season when I’m concerned about our turtles or exhausted from long nights of fieldwork. Turquoise, along with all of the other momma turtles and their babies, is one of the many reasons I’m thankful to have been on Bald Head Island this summer as a member of Sea Turtle Protection Team!
Being a part of the Sea Turtle Protection Team has been one of the best experiences I have ever had. Whether it was perfectly clear with the milky way in full view, torrential down-pouring, or a hot windless night with bugs replacing the oxygen, being able to work with this unpredictable species made all trials and tribulations worthwhile. I have grown up in North Carolina and have lived half of my life on its coast but had not had the opportunities to experience what it has to offer the way that I have been here.
Some of the benefits of living a nocturnal lifestyle have been experiencing the bright blue glow of bioluminescence sprinkled along our shore, seeing my first shooting stars and being able to work so closely with rookie and veteran nesting Loggerhead sea turtles. Some of these ladies have made everlasting impressions on our team; FFK808, or as known to me and Kayla, Disco, was one of the only nesters of the season who laid her clutch on West Beach, fully committing to the area, going as close to the marina as she could get. We named her this because of how bright the stars and lightning in the sky were, accompanied by a carapace covered in bioluminescence.
My absolute favorite momma is Sandy. She was our first turtle and has provided us many opportunities to see her, even in the daylight, coming up to see us when we needed her most. I am happy to call her a friend and hope that one day we can reunite.
It’s safe to say that my summer here on Bald Head Island has been nothing short of magical. With unusually cold and wet weather occurring throughout the month of May and into June, our team had a slow start to the season. This period of time without many turtles coming to the beaches gave our team ample opportunities to train, learn, and spend time together. While there were many obstacles that we ran into in these early months such as cold weather, having a UTV break down, and a shortage of nesting turtles on the beach, our team always came out stronger because of it.
After many rainy and cold nights without seeing any turtles, the second turtle that our team encountered was a Legacy named Granny. Granny nested on East Beach right as the sun peeked over the horizon and the rain ended. It was such a rare and incredible opportunity to see a sea turtle in the light of the sunrise and share that moment with my team. Bald Head Island has given me a summer worth of experiences like this that I will cherish forever and value throughout my career.
This summer from start to finish has been one of the most amazing and surreal experiences of my entire life. It’s an unexplainable feeling to be sharing the same moment under the stars with a huge momma sea turtle while she lays her eggs. I’ll never forget seeing our first mom of the season, Sandy, emerging from the water as the milky way glowed above us. It felt like I was in a National Geographic documentary. It was one of the moments where you pinch yourself to know that it is real.
And then came the long nights, with no turtles where we wondered if they had all left us or were ever coming back. Little did we know a clan of turtles was lurking offshore, waiting to strike when we had finally let our guard down. Boom, turtle season was off with a bang with nests left and right.
And then came the best part, hatchling season. Finally being able to see the babies climbing over each other to make it to the water felt like a full circle moment, and had me on an adrenaline high for the remainder of the season. From getting excited over sighting a turtle, only to realize it is just a log, to being pelted in the face by the rain on stormy nights, there were two things we could always rely on, each other and the turtles. Thank you to the Bald Head Island Conservancy for providing me with this one of a kind experience.