The approach of Isaac put much of the northern Gulf coast on alert. Here in Alabama, the major concern was tropical storm force winds, the threat of spin up tornadoes, and flooding from storm surge. Homeowners in flood prone areas along Mobile Bay were placed under a voluntary evacuation order. But, not all residents with beach front property were able to move. Some were dug in…literally.
Alabama’s beaches are home to the nests of loggerhead sea turtles. The mother turtles crawl ashore in the dead of night, dig burrows in the sand, lay their eggs, cover them up again, and leave. In Gulf Shores, they fall under the care of the area’s so-called “turtle czar,” Mike Reynolds. “This year we’ve had, as of this morning…one hundred and forty eight nests.” And he says even a glancing blow from Isaac could do serious harm to the hatchlings.
Tropical storm Debby lashed the nesting sites back in June, and in some cases baby loggerheads drowned while trying to hatch from their eggs and dig their way to the surface and out into the gulf waters. To avoid a similar problem with Isaac, Reynolds and members of the non-profit group “Share The Beach” decided to perform a “turtle intervention.” They tracked down viable nests with hatchlings about to emerge, and delicately dug the hatchlings out and placed them in a big plastic bucket for later release. Step one was using a doctor’s stethoscope placed on the sand to detect a characteristic “whooshing” sound that baby turtles make they dig through the sand after hatching.
“And, we carefully get them all out,” says Reynolds. “And then restore the nest as carefully as we can, to its previous condition, except that all the turtles are out. And we take them to the water and let them go to continuous their little life cycle.”
The little turtles, pictured here, are maybe three inches across. Fully grown, they could reach three hundred pounds.