Alternative Summer Break

This is my first Alternative Summer Break I can go on and I am SUPER EXCITED! I have always wanted to do more volunteer opportunities outside of Michigan over my time off from school but I have never been able to with work and LCAMP (which occurs during AB breaks). But, I not only get to go on the only break that is later in the summer meaning I can still do LCAMP, but I get to go on the Animal Endangerment break (which is a must for every AB Breaker)! I get to site lead this as my second break of site leading and this break departs August 1-5.

The Animal Endangerment break has always been on my list of things I need to do before I graduate and I finally get to do it. This break travels to Palm Beach, Florida (in August AKA it’s going to be really hot and humid) to help sea turtles in their first view of life. We will be working with three different organizations while we are down there for the week. The three organizations are the Sea Turtle Conservation League of Singer Island, MacArthur Beach State Park, and Loggerhead Marine Life Center. Throughout our issue eds during our meetings, we learned just how sacred turtles are. Their survival rate is so low that the state of Florida has a law about endangering the amphibians further. They suggest tourists and families to turn off their lights or close their blinds by 9 so the turtles don’t get disorientated and follow the light from the ocean. There are also 3 different types of turtles they see a lot including Loggerhead, etc. It is also important to not touch the animals so they can get orientated with the beach.

Day One Of Service. Waking up at 6am to scope the beach of any sea turtles that are disorientated and guiding them to the ocean. We then went through hundreds of hatchlings to dig up the eggs that are hatched, the pipped, and the alive and still in the hatching. We then record each different category of hatching, where it was at, whether they were disoriented and when. Although we are not licensed to dig, the licensed professional who has been doing this since 1990 let us record the data and follow the turtles to the ocean. She handled the dead, pipped, & in fertile eggs. We made a line of us to protect the turtles from being touched and possibly stepped on by the tourists and families. We followed those babies every step of the way out into the ocean. If the couple of turtles that we found had to go to rehab, we put them in a bucket which would be taken to Loggerheads Marine Life Center. Those turtles would be they didn’t look strong enough on their own to be let go, they had a hurt limb, or if it was after 9 as it was too hot. If we wouldn’t of came through with the licensed professional to do that work every morning from 6-10am, the ones that were in the hatching alive, would fry from the heat. After working with the Sea Turtle Conservation League Of Singer Island, we went to the MacArthur Beach to do trail maintence from 10-1pm. They also let us swim in their beach area which was much colder than Juno’s beach (nice and refreshing after doing trail maintence).

Day Two Of Service. Up & at them we excavated 12 nests which was double of what we did the day before (with the help of two more regular volunteers with Debbie). We sadly saw more pip-dead, dead, or unfertilized eggs in this round but with the heat, it’s what is expected (4 degrees hotter than average). Yesterday we saw so much trash but didn’t have enough hands to pick it up or places to properly dispose of-so today we brought a trash bag & filled it up twice through the stretch of the mile long beach. Debbie was appreciative of our groups idea and the impact it will have on the turtles. After doing the hands on service, we went to MacArthur to move 30 kayaks across the park and clean up the mangroves. The mangroves are actually a species that look like trees with complicated branches going everywhere-very nutritious for the animals and very tragic for the amount of trash caught in them. So we went through & collected bags & bags of trash. After that, we finally got to see Loggerhead Marine Center which is the coolest turtle hospital  ever. They had multiple tanks which a different turtle in each for different treatments from their tragedies. Some got hit by a boat so there were what looked like shelves so the turtle could put his shell under it. This is like when you take an hundred pound backpack off except it’s releasing the pressure on the turtles upper torso. There were turtles who were hooked and swallowed the fishing hook. There were eye surgeries from them as well. And there were even turtles who have ammonia or were found in cold water when they live best in very warm weathered water. So all around, this hospital truly cared and treated each one like a friend. After our tour, we got to cut out turtles to be used for education purposes later with the kids at Loggerhead. This was a great bonding experience & overall phenomenal day.

Day Three Of Service. Today we worked with 3 volunteers to excavate only 4 nests. It might of seemed little but we learned so much from one of the volunteers who has a PhD in biology & filled our brains with knowledge & humor. Afterwards, we went to MacArthur as usual to pick exotic plants that were overtaking the assistant managers residence on the parks property. This might of seemed weird working on his residence but we found out that not only is it required for the assistant manager to live there so he could assist any turtles or keep “aliens” off the beach in the after hours of work but he had no choice to live elsewhere. These plants or should I say extreme weeds that grow around trees & over other plants that are essential to wildlife, need to be weeded so that those plants do become available to the animals. It was vital we did that because he no time either to do it himself & after being there for an hour, we picked up tens of bags full of them! And we found more weeds at Loggerhead’s Marine Life Center to weed. We cut out turtles some more for a camp coming up & even painted the sticks that went into the nests for marking. Through & through, a very sweaty & exhausting day. But, we got to end it by going to the PhD’s place to see his 12 tortoises in his backyard! We got to feed them lettuce too which was a new experience for me. We even got to end the night by eating dinner at Debbie’s, seeing her tortoises, and her turtle filled house. She gave us a tour of her house as well as letting us buy her logo shirt to save the turtles further! Ended the night around midnight but the best ending to our night no matter how long it seems since we got to be with our two favorite people on this trip!

Day Four Of Service. HOLY BURNT! Today we started out with Debbie again but it wasn’t a day like any other. We found a nest of 36 alive baby turtles! Normally there is less than 6! So that made us feel extremely accomplished for a morning along with the other nests we excavated, when we found a leucitic (white) turtle in a washed up nest from the erosion! HOW LUCKY! After we let all them go and brought many back to Loggerhead’s hospital from being too weak or after 9, Debbie brought us to Sailfish to feed the hungry fish! They just at every piece of bread & every foot in the water. We finished our little therapy treat with Debbie to go to MacArthur to do a beach cleanup. We collected in an hour, 17 pounds of trash! If that’s not enough to scream just how much of an impact humans have on the earth, I don’t know what is (along with the fact climate change is definitely a big deal to Florida as it is the hottest it’s been since 1880 being 4 degrees hotter than normal. This leaves many nests with sadly burnt turtles)! It also meant that more likely then not the turtles would be female since the gender is decided by the weather with it being so hot & female turtles coming from the warmer weather. After MacArthur, we found our way to Juno Beach Pier to work with Loggerhead by staining the deck & picking up more trash. This project was fun as we saw an immediate difference we made & the appreciation from everyone. It was an added bonus of being on the pier to see a stingray & many giant fish (some of wish were caught and released by crazy fishermen on the pier). After all was said and done, we became lobsters from never being in the shade-so wish us luck for our last day!

LAST DAY OF SERVICE. We thought today was going to be a slow day due to none of the nests needing to be excavated but man we were wrong. We saw the mothers tracks to a new nest right off the back meaning we had to stake, date, & cross through the tracks acknowledging we already saw them. Then all the other nests we excavated had 20+ turtles coming out of them (so of course we ran out of names to give them). We saw a pipped alive turtle where Debbie checked it’s sac to see if it absorbed the nutrients & the sac was hanging from the stomach meaning it didn’t. THEN WE SAW A LEATHERBACK HATCHLING! It was such a rare & lucky experience for us since those are done hatching by March usually & it is August currently. Not only that but there were two in the nests! One we followed to the water & the other not strong enough to be released. But these turtles grow to be 2,000 pounds verse the Loggerhead’s 200 pound weight. They come out of the best twice the size as well! These Leatherbacks date back to prehistoric times so they have become extremely endangered and very few between so I am thanking the heavens for that experience. Afterwards, we finished our service with MacArthur by finishing the Assistant Managers yard with weeding which we found to be weirdly satisfying with the vines & seeing the open area the yard became without them there (and knowing the difference we made with the environment and animals in that area without those weeds there). MacArthur let us take a plant home for the road & we finished the day by exploring with snorkeling & watching the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics with out housing man from the week.

KEY POINTS OF LEARNING:

  1. Close your blinds/turn off your lights past 9pm as it will disorient the turtles from going to the ocean & towards civilization when you stay on the beach.
  2. Pick up after yourself, don’t liter, & clean up after others trash. It’s not worth killing marine animals to save yourself from throwing it away.
  3. Reuse, reduce, recycle. Global warming is real. If you don’t think so, explain why more then ever, animals are being fried from the extreme heat. 4 degrees hotter doesn’t seem like a lot, but to them it is. And at this rate, it will only get worse and more animals will die from our laziness.
  4. Only related to turtles: if you see them, don’t touch them! They have to get aquatinted to the beach, not your bacteria-germ giving hands. Don’t pour water on them unless it’s from the ocean! It affects their pH level & could kill them. If you see a nest, don’t dig in it! It not only is a federal offense & you will go to jail, but the turtles that do best are the ones that aren’t disturbed. If you see seaweed on top or around the nest, move it! The turtles are trying to climb up but can’t do it when there’s seaweed trapping them. Only 1 in 10,000 turtles reach reproductive maturity & it is up to us to change that rate!

Through and through, the best week of volunteering to exist. We had the perfect end to the perfect week, we met so many passionate and helpful, loving volunteers, & we emerged ourselves into the culture. I couldn’t of been more thankful to have my co along side helping make this week so perfect. I couldn’t of been more thankful for being in this beautiful weather & complaining about the amount of sweat from all the hard work we did. I couldn’t of been more thankful for all the amazing people  we met along the way & how cohesive our group is. I have never laughed so much, worked so hard, learned so intrinsically, & stepped so far outside of my comfort zone. This week was truly a once in a lifetime experience & I couldn’t of been more thankful for the CMU students I got to enjoy it with. Forever lucky to inspire & be inspired.

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