Sunday, November 10, 2013

Blog Contest Submission: Megan Ewald

Megan Ewald is a undergraduate student in the Environmental Studies program. She wrote the blog entry posted below while completing a summer internship in Mexico. Great work, Megan! A reminder that the blog contest is open for entries until December 1, 2013!

Sea Turtles, Sunburns, and Sleep Deprived (August 3, 2013)

            The first time I saw a mother sea turtle laying her eggs was a magical. To watch her crawl from the surf and raise herself up on the patina of her intricately patterned flippers and then later feel the slimy warmth of those perfect spheres in my hand as I scoop them from the sand, felt like a primitive encounter with a creature from another world. After almost two months on the job however, a bit of the mystic had worn away.
            Every night I help patrol the beach and pack nest boxes from 11:30PM-4:30AM. The hours and work load vary significantly depending on how many turtles we find, which can range from none to more than 10 per night, depending on variables like weather, beach activity, light pollution, tides, and the lunar calendar. Last night we had eleven turtles, meaning that I didn’t get much sleep. As we drive down the beach in the dune buggy we look for the tracks of the turtles where they intersect the dune buggy route, and for the turtles themselves. If we’re lucky we only find the nests or a turtle rocking her stomach back and forth, disguising her eggs in the final stages of nesting. Last night we weren’t so lucky.
            Whenever Frank and I would spot a turtle in the beginning of nesting, I would hop off the dune buggy and mark the nest. This means that I would draw lines with my feet straight off the mothers head and parallel from her hind flippers, so we could easily locate the eggs later by probing the sand with a stick. I did this four times heading north, stopping once so Frank could excavate some eggs from a mother who had buried her eggs but had not finished disguising the nest. Frank swore loudly each time she sprayed us with sand, as his deft, liver spotted hands unearthed 119 eggs, while I recorded the number of eggs and location information in sharpie on the plastic bag. We repeated this process over and over, the passenger seat of the buggy stacked with a growing mountain of turtle eggs, and it becomes more and more wearisome to clamber on and off the buggy’s left fender.
            When we spot a turtle nesting in front of the beach hotel I hop out to stay with her. We suspect the guards there to be guilty of poaching eggs, so I want to be there to get them first. I marked out the lines and then sat cross legged next to her in the dark, fighting my drooping eyelids. As I brush away a swarm of mosquitoes, I watch Frank and the dune buggy zooming north up the beach, its blaringly bright lights bouncing as it navigates the dunes. She finishes laying and I locate the eggs on the first poke, feeling the sand give way under pressure and open the chamber. I dig down to my elbow and feel that my stick had broken at least one egg, a beginner’s mistake I curse myself for. I toss the broken yolk off to the side and bring forth 111 eggs and finish with the rest of the procedures just in time to meet Frank in the dune buggy, and make our way back to camp.
            By this time its past 2:30, and we’re all exhausted. Patricia and Joslin come out from the houses to start packing the nests in individual boxes, and since I’m inept at the tedious paperwork at the best of times, I volunteer to go back to the beach with Frank to scoop up the last three nests. I fight to maintain focus, to try to spot turtle tracks as we speed across the sand. Frank spots and digs up the first two easily, his 78 year old hands moving with a grace and careful efficiency gained partially from years of experience, but mostly from his own caring and down to earth nature. At the final nest the mother is taking her time, and Frank jumps out of the dune buggy to wait on the sand. I join him, at first lying on my back, irritable with the world. I wished that the turtle would just hurry up, or that we could leave her and let the next group of volunteers do the work. In that state of mind I turned on my side, and in that cool sand fell into a dream world between consciousnesses. 
            I felt as if I were entirely alone in the world. I forgot about the buggy and Frank, about my job, and replaced their company for that of ghost crabs and night herons. My body felt like it was turning back and forth, as if the tide had come in and the waves carried me away. I was suspended in this state for time unknown, and then I was woken up by something real. With my ear pressed to the powdery sand, the grains working their way into its crevasse, I could hear it ten feet away. The pounding of the mother’s body and flippers, pressing down the sand so no predator could steal her precious eggs. The vibrations move through the sand, as they would weather or not I was there to feel them. I wake with the renewed understanding that I am the lucky observer, That I am privileged to night after night witness this ancient rite.
            I’m startled from these thoughts by Frank, who is already at work digging up the eggs. I scramble up the beach towards him, and since we ran out of plastic bags he removes his own shirt to carry them in. When we return home to camp there is even more work to do. The sand has to be strained, mixed with water, deposited in boxes. The eggs are counted and arranged in rows, fill with more sand, arrange more eggs, repeat. There is paperwork to complete, heavy boxes of sand to be lifted on shelves, more sand needs to be mixed. Everyone has a job, and some the stress and lack of sleep makes us irritable, but tonight we make little jokes and laugh tiredly at them. By 4AM all the boxes are safely in the nursery.
            I am bug bitten, sweaty, sandy, sleep deprived, sunburned, and very glad to spend my summer with sea turtles.

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