This year, I got the exciting opportunity to spend my birthday with sea turtles. As a staff member of Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the worlds oldest sea turtle conservation group, the chance to see a turtle in its natural habitat might not seem like a novelty. This night, however, would be my first time interacting with these endangered reptiles. For seven month, CCC staff and I worked hard to develop Tour de Turtles, a sea turtle migration tracking event. The seed planted in January was finally ready to blossom.
On the night of July 30th, CCC staff and volunteers gathered on the beach at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne, Florida. We all waited in anticipation of the nesting sea turtle that would become our first Tour de Turtles competitor to be tagged with a satellite transmitter in Florida, a loggerhead named Belle o Brevard by a local resident.
After a call from the turtle scouts, Dan Evans, CCCs satellite-tracking guru, trekked northbound to meet Belle, a 350 lbs loggerhead that was almost done nesting. The volunteers, equipped with red flashlights, followed closely as they carried the wooden box that would hold Belle until morning.
Once done nesting, she was gently ushered into the box. Snug enough in the box ensure that she would not hurt herself, Dan and the volunteers carried the fully-grown sea turtle across the sand to a safe spot where Belle would spend the night with the turtle sitters under the gorgeous moonlight.
As the volunteers got closer, my heart swelled with excitement. After months of planning, I was ready to meet Belle, the special turtle that would soon become an ambassador for sea turtles everywhere. Luckily, Dan asked me to watch over her while he led spectators, on the last sea turtle walk of the nesting season, to another sea turtle that had begun nesting.
I stood over Belle, watching her watch me. She had a wise, deep gaze that, in a single instance, reaffirmed my commitment to help save these ancient mariners. Her role in the first annual Tour de Turtles would be an important one.
As one of the eight competitors in this mock sea turtle marathon, Belle is swimming to help raise awareness about the threat of coastal development to vital sea turtle habitats. Her goal is not only to travel 2,620 kilometers (1,628 mi) in an effort to win Tour de Turtles, but also to educate spectators on how they can help sea turtles survive.
As the clock struck midnight, I was very thankful that I was now spending my birthday looking over this big momma that would soon begin her long, oceanic migration.
To learn more about Tour de Turtles and all the sea turtle participants, please log on to www.tourdeturtles.org.
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