The text came Monday morning that there were finally signs that the sea turtle nest we were monitoring was ready to “boil” with babies. After nearly two weeks of sitting with the nest every evening the volunteers were ready for the big event.
In the days leading up to the “boil” the small cadre of volunteers learned the answers to all the standard questions:
How long does it take: On average, the nest will hatch between 55-65 days from when it was laid.
How do you know where it is: Each morning volunteers patrol the beaches and look for the signs of a “crawl.” The nest is then marked and a single egg is harvested for DNA testing.
How many eggs are there: On average, about 100 per nest.
As part of the educational outreach mission of the sea turtle protection program, the volunteers learn about and subsequently, are called upon to explain that the turtles return to the place of their birth once they mature. Unfortunately, only about one in a thousand make it. Hence the need to make every effort to help the small creatures have an event-free start to their journey.
Sponsoring the nest was Lisa Nolin’s idea and we started planning for it months in advance. She was retiring from the nearby Brunswick Nuclear Plant and had spent the last three years getting qualified as a nest parent. This year she would parent her own nest and she would need help. Support came from her previous co-workers -- several Duke Energy employees signed up and with them, their friends and family and several local Duke Energy retirees, to form a solid team.
The volunteers are most surprised by the volume of people to interact with. Each night there were 30-50 people who would stop by the nest and ask about the turtles. “One night” says Karen Williams, one of the volunteers, “we had about 400 people surrounding the nest because we just happened to be in the area where they hold their regular monthly beach parties. We were all relieved that the turtles did not come that night!” When the nest did hatch, there were easily 250-300 people. Jeff Nolin, another volunteer and Nest Co-Parent, commented on the “effectiveness of text messaging for spreading news quickly.”
The night of the boil was definitely an event. Volunteers arrived at about 5 p.m. and set up the nest. The "runway" was extended all the way to the waterline and built up small berms on each side to keep the turtles headed in the right direction. The number of people grew and grew until there were, in places, 5-6 rows deep of people eager to see a glimpse of a turtle. Two volunteers were assigned to count the turtles as they emerged and everyone else was to provide crowd control. The objective was to keep people and turtles separate from each other while also helping people experience the event and learn about turtles.
Each new arrival to the nest asked “what are you seeing?” At first, all we could see was the tip of a flipper. Hours later, we could see a head, then five heads, and then around 10 p.m., nearly 60 baby turtles tumbled forth from the sand and crawled to the ocean to begin their long journey. It was all over in about 20 minutes. Most of them had no problem, but one kept getting confused and would turn around. But the nest parents were able to get him headed the right way.
The nest parent volunteer project is just one example of how dedicated our employees are to protecting the environment and the creatures who depend on it. At the Brunswick Nuclear Plant, we have a special affinity for sea turtles. Operating for 40 years, there have been times when turtles got too close to our plant. But the company has invested millions to add barriers to keep turtles safe. Still, wildlife biologists and technicians monitor the plant surroundings daily. And we take it a step further by sponsoring the local sea turtle protection groups and volunteer projects like this.