December 06, 2014

The Tale of the Turtle

One of the best parts about visiting Art Basel Miami Beach is that is gives me an opportunity to go to the beach in December.  While New York City is cold and grey, even an off day in South Florida is good enough to walk on the beach and take a dip in the ocean.  But this morning was very special even by Sunshine State standards.  This morning, just as we started on our regular after-breakfast beach walk, we came across a little brown creature stranded on the sand.  At first I thought it was a crab, but when we got closer we realized it was a baby sea turtle.

The first thought was to put it back in the sea, but the waves were so rough that the little turtle kept coming back to shore.  My husband quickly realized that this was a protected species and sent me to get the hotel pool lifeguard who knew a thing or two about sea turtles and would know what to do with this little one in distress.  I ran to get John who dropped everything to come back with me to the water's edge.  He immediately called the hotline for the "Turtle Truck" and sure enough within two minutes had a call back from the turtle expert, Selina.  She told us not to put the baby back into the ocean but to put it in a bucket with wet sand and that she would be by within the hour.  We went back to the pool and grabbed a sand pail and shovel to make a new, temporary home for the little turtle.

Our little charge seemed to be uninjured and would move all of its flippers if turned over on its back.  It was about 6 inches long and had quite a beautiful pattern on its shell.  John knew that this was an endangered species and told us that this little creature would grow into a great big turtle of about 2-3 feet across.

So we waited with our little charge until a white truck with flashing lights arrived on the scene and out jumped Selina and her husband Bill.  Maybe the first clue that they were "turtle people" was the turtle t-shirt and pendant worn by Bill.  Or maybe it was the turtle tattoos on the ankles of Selina, but it just took a moment to understand that they were completely devoted to the well being of these marvelous sea creatures.

Working under the auspices of the Florida Sea Grant College Program and its protocol of Sea Turtle Conservation in Miami-Dade County, Selina and Bill come to the rescue of sea turtles up and down the Miami coastline.  From protecting turtle nests, to rescuing turtles in distress, to lobbying for laws to make modern day development more friendly to these prehistoric creatures, the Sea Turtle Conservation Program has raised awareness of this endangered species and made a lot of progress towards ensuring their survival.

But back to our little foundling.  Selina took one look at the baby and was happy to see that it seemed uninjured and quite healthy.  She estimated that it was about 2-3 years old but could not say if it was male or female although she told us that it is very rare to find a male.  Selina and Bill both thought that we had found a Loggerhead Turtle, but did not rule out the possibility of it being a Hawksbill Turtle either.  And yes, both species are endangered.

The next step in this little turtle's life was to be taken to a rehab center at the University of Florida where it would be nourished, examined and monitored.  Selina and Bill had noticed two little spots of algae and a tiny razor barnacle attached to its shell.  Then, if all went well after a couple of months, the little turtle would be taken out to the kelp line, about 10 miles offshore, where it would be released to the wild.

Getting back into the Turtle Truck with the little one still in his plastic bucket with wet sand, Selina and Bill thanked us and assured us that it would now have a fighting chance at survival.  We are now Turtle Rangers with one accredited "Save" and I've never been prouder.

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