It was a relatively comfortable Friday night in South Florida. Overhead fans and an open, wooden learning center letting the breeze in off the ocean as well as the intracoastal made it bearable. We were there for the sea turtle program. The people were friendly and we were excited about doing something to assist these magnificent creatures. Although we forgot our natural insect repellent, we borrowed what was there and braved the chemicals together with the skeeters for a higher good. Interestingly, though the biters were abundant for a full half hour before Ranger Roger A. Green started, they literally disappeared after the program began almost out of respect for the subject at hand. A group of thirty people of all ages showed up and the first slide filled the screen. We were at John U. Llyod State Park in Hollywood, a 251-acre barrier island preserving some of Florida's natural resources rapidly losing ground to urban development.
The beach there is one of our favorite. We saw the turtle nests on the fourth of July, a day dedicated to the independence of this great nation, a pioneer in so many areas of life in the 21st century. Their nests were marked, numbered and protected with wire mesh. At least some people are also trying to bring a kind of independence to the turtles and we wanted to be part of this group. There is a quality of fascination and the sacred when we imagine such creatures as whales, elephants, marine turtles and even species like the redwood or giant sequoia trees. These species are like giant history books, holding the entire memory of our planet. Within the designs of a turtle's shell, the folds of an elephant's skin, the songs of the whales, and the trunks of the oldest trees in the world, we have a deeper history than we are taught in school.
Our subject is sea turtles. The earliest known sea turtles appear in the fossil record in the Late Jurassic period, 208 to 144 million years ago. Mother Nature has preserved them this long and they're still around, depositing 40.000 to 70.000 nests per year in Florida. With each nest containing an average of 100-120 eggs, you may wonder why this species is endangered. We'll get to that, but please realize that of the eight kinds of sea turtles found worldwide, five are found and nest in Florida. They like to nest on tropical and subtropical beaches because their eggs need warmth to incubate. As Florida residents this places us in a special position of stewardship.
The most commonly seen varieties in Florida are loggerheads, greens and leatherbacks. Leatherbacks can be up to eight feet long, and can dive up to 3000 miles, a feat that even some advanced technology is unable to achieve. Loggerheads are named for their large heads and can crush shelled animals on which it feeds with its powerful jaws. Greens, named for the greenish color of their body fat, are vegetarians.
Ranger Roger A. Green presented many facts as part of an ongoing program. Informing the interested public is only one of his jobs. He works in an outdoor office, doing everything it takes to bring a balance back to our relationship with Nature. He's a professional and his values show in his caring tone, dedication and sense of humor in getting some of the facts out to children and adults alike, making it enjoyable and memorable. Our career paths may be different, but not our responsibility. The food chain is an intelligent system. It's in the interest of our ecosystem that any one population doesn't keep growing. When sea turtle numbers (or the numbers of any species) are kept in balance through natural means, all is well. When these numbers are severely affected by unthinking humans, we cause a loss of independence.
Ever leave a plastic bag at the beach or throw it overboard from a boat?Everytime we pollute the ocean we cause problems for all creatures that live there. For sea turtles some of the greatest damage is caused by a plastic bag we may thoughtlessly discard overboard on a boat or leave on the beach. One of their favorite foods is jellyfish. You can imagine how a soggy plastic bag floating in the ocean would resemble a jellyfish. Eating the bag can cause illness or even death to marine turtles.
The Florida Marine Research Institute website says this: Sea turtles are threatened in many ways, such as encroachment of coastal development on their nesting beaches, encounters with pollutants and marine debris, accidental drownings in fishing gear, and international trade in turtle meat and products.
Why these creatures have chosen to procreate in the way that they do is to be pondered. Essentially they swim ashore, make their way over the sand, dig a fairly large and deep hole and lay many eggs. As marine creatures they aren't equipped to traverse land, nor dig holes, but they do. The eggs are food for predators and can be damaged by other environmental factors, as well as humans.
Once the eggs hatch, the hatchlings are programmed to move toward the brightest light. Before beach property fetched top dollar, this was the star-studded night sky, and moving in that direction, the hatchlings braved their way to the ocean. Of course predators on land and sea were still factors. These days, they tend to head toward the lights of the pizza parlor or condominium across the street.
So far it's been mostly bad news. As tropical and subtropical climates are favorite nesting grounds, there is considerable scientific and human-aid effort in Florida, especially during the long summer nesting season. There are many programs that welcome new human helpers or simply visitors. Take your children. After all they are the ones who will continue to live with such creatures and challenges. You may look into John U. Lloyd Beach, Anne Kolb Nature Center-West Lake Park, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Marinelife Center Of Juno Beach, or The Museum of Discovery and Science. Of course there are many other places all over Florida.
Memory. I feel that such species can tell us more about the origins of creation and the history of society than the most sophisticated lab instrument or historical scholarship. I know of one being who's vowed to remain in the body and has done so for several hundreds of years now to help humanity. In meditation I've created a relationship with this being who carries the form of a young man. Blessings have come. The existence of this being is verified from several different sources. Yet I've never touched him. You can actually touch a marine turtle and it has some of the oldest memory of any creature on Earth!
There is an undeniable power and presence to Nature. It surrounds us and we live in it. Trees are the lungs of the Earth. Its waters are the givers of life. The sky provides an atmospheric bubble, a housing for us. The soil feeds, nourishes and gives us a footing. Humans are so new here, yet we're depleting and abusing resources many creatures have respected and honored for eons. What doesn't seem to be understood is that we not only cut off the lifeblood of those that share our planet, but in fact cut off our own. What we do to one, we do to ourself and there's simply no getting around that principle. Don't let this sit on your computer and be forgotten. Let it incite you to recalibrate your values and priorities. Take a stand! Speak up! Make a wise choice, in love. Imagine the love a loggerhead has, to put up with it's own process of procreation under the best circumstances, let alone what it faces today.
Do you have the capacity for that kind of love? I know you do!