I just moved to Boston from Chicago six months ago for a fundraising position at the New England Aquarium. My new position focuses on writing letters to possible donors about our programs, and the first letter I wrote was about the Aquarium's sea turtle rescue program. My first thought was, "Wow, here's an organization that actually saves marine animals and doesn't just talk about it." My second thought was, "What a great program, and how can I help?"
A Kemp's ridley sea turtle
I contacted Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay to find out how I can volunteer to look for the turtles that get stranded on the Cape's beaches, knowing most of those turtles are eventually treated by Aquarium rescuers. The volunteer manager was quick to let me know the procedure and also to not expect to find any turtles. She mentioned some of her volunteers of seven years have been searching the beaches and have not found a turtle. I signed up to look for turtles two full weekends in November, plus the Sunday after Thanksgiving as well as the first weekend in December.
Bundled up to walk Cape Cod beaches after high tide to find stranded sea turtles
The best time to look for turtles is right after high tide. Unfortunately, high tide doesn't happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some mornings I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. and put on my long underwear, socks, old tennis shoes, sweater, fleece, puffy coat, hat and mittens. I had to grab my cell in case I needed to call turtle rescue. I also had my turtle towel in hand.
I was assigned certain beaches depending on the wind. I walked Truro, Wellfleet, Brewster and Dennis beaches. The weekend before Thanksgiving, I walked a Wellfleet beach. Before going on the beach I found my stick to help me move the seaweed (just in case the turtle gets caught in it) and I started walking south on the beach. It was about an hour after high tide. What I found was amazing. I found a new respect for the ocean, and it wasn't all pretty. I found dead birds, crabs, fish and a lot of trash. I certainly had been one of those people who just went to the beach to read a book or swim in the ocean on those beautiful 80-degree-plus days. To see the ocean and the beach in a new light was eye opening and made the Aquarium's mission to save the ocean even more important to me.
After 10 minutes of walking, I found my first turtle. I was so excited until I saw that his shell was broken and I could see blood. I threw my mittens off and called the Audubon Wellfleet turtle rescue number and spoke to Ashley. I told her the status of the turtle and since I worked at the Aquarium she trusted me to bring it in. [Click here to listen to an interview with Connie to learn what you should do if you find a turtle!] I placed it gently on my turtle towel and ran as fast as I could to the car and then to the Audubon. I was sad when they said there was no hope for my turtle but on my way out at the exit of the Audubon I saw 5 banana boxes each with a beautiful turtle inside, at that moment my sadness turned to hope. The hope that one or more of these turtles have a fighting chance to survive.
Stay tuned to the Rescue Blog for Part Two of Laura's experience volunteering to search for stranded sea turtles!