By GERRY BARKER
North Palm Beach Life/ firstname.lastname@example.org
MACARTHUR BEACH STATE PARK_ As Elmer Fudd would say, "Be vewy, vewy quiet ... ". Why? It's turtle nesting season, and the mama turtles like to lay their eggs in peace.
It's Saturday night, and a group of us are gathered at the park's Nature Center and listening to Park Ranger Bill Wilson, who was instructing us on "sea turtle etiquette." We are here for the Sea Turtle Walk and Talk Program. June and July are peak months when the Loggerhead turtles nest, and if the stars aligned, we might get to observe it up close and personal.
The beaches at MacArthur Park are prime real estate for the Loggerheads, as well as Greens and Leatherbacks, as we learned from a video we watched. In fact, Florida beaches host more Loggerhead nests than anywhere in the world -- almost 70,000 a year.
More amazing, while Loggerheads roam oceans the world over, when it comes time to nest (when they are around 25 years old), they always return to the exact beach where they were born. One report holds they are guided by an internal GPS that uses the earth's magnetic field for guidance. However they do it, we bow to you, Mother Nature.
A few more ground rules before we start our trek to the beach:
-- Wear dark clothing.
-- No cameras or cell phones.
-- Stay together.
-- Be ready to walk up to 2 miles, and have patience.
Now is also the time to apply bug repellant, although Ranger Wilson advised no bugs had been reported.
9 PM. We took the park's long boardwalk over to the Atlantic. The night was clear, with flashes of lightning over the ocean in the far distance and a full moon reflecting off the water made it almost seem like daytime.
Our group -- there were around 20 of us -- gathered around the benches and rails where the boardwalk ended, and quietly waited. Along with Ranger Wilson, there were four park beach scouts watching for any Loggerhead appearances.
We were cautioned you never know if a turtle will make an appearance, Here's hoping.
9:45 PM. Turtle alert! A Loggerhead has emerged from the ocean, and is heading across the sand right for us!
Weighing between 250 and 300 pounds, this mama turtle was moving slowly up the beach, leaving the telltale flipper marks in her wake. We watched her progress from the railing -- virtual ringside seats.
Closer and closer she comes, until finally she positions herself almost completely under the deck where we are standing. Her powerful back flippers start the process of digging out the nest.
10:30 PM. Patiently, methodically, with frequent rest stops, the Loggerhead scoops out the sand, then digs a secondary hole to receive the eggs. At this point, the scout helper invites us to come closer and watch.
Illuminated by a red-filtered flashlight, we watch the turtle lift her back flippers, which usually means the eggs are coming. Except this time, no eggs. She repeats the process several more times, with the same result.
"This is a first," the scout tells us. "I've never seen this in the 14 years I've been doing this."
We had just about decided it was only a practice run when out came one of the ping-pong ball-size eggs. Success!
Typically, the nesting turtle will lay around 100 eggs, and build up to four nests in a season. The eggs hatch in around 60 days.
11:30 PM. Things are wrapping up. All that is left is for the Loggerhead to cover the nest and sweep the sand around it, then make the slow trek back into the Atlantic.
While this was going on, a second turtle could be seen off to our left, making her nest about mid-way up the beach.
It's time to us to make our way home as well. We thanked Ranger Wilson and the dedicated volunteers who devote so much time and energy to the preservation of these beautiful creatures.
If you are interested in joining one of the Sea Turtle Walks, you need a reservation. The 2016 Walks are full. Inquire about 2017 Walks at the Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park website.
A Poem by Margie Ihrig
"Wonderful article by Gerry & poem by Margie. Thanks so much for sharing! We loved watching the nesting process earlier this year in May before returning home to Chicago. An amazing sight to behold!" -- Ann Zimmer