It started with a book….
Many years ago, as I waited on line at Bells Pharmacy, the paperback selections caught my eye. One in particular called to me. It was titled, The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe. The cover was inviting with a big red beach umbrella and the story summary sounded like something I would enjoy reading. Impulsively, I added it to my purchases and went on my way. Little did I know that inexpensive paperback purchased on a cold winters day in 2002 would ignite a passion in me that still burns today.
Mary Alice Monroe has a unique style of writing. She resides on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina and is very involved in the conservation of wildlife around her. Though her books are fiction, she researches her topics thoroughly and effectively weaves information about endangered animals into her story, inviting readers to become as concerned as she is. The Beach House first exposed me to the plight of the Loggerhead Sea Turtles. Throughout the story I learned many new and interesting facts and I began to aspire to someday become a “Turtle Lady,” just like the main character, Olivia “Lovie” Rutledge. I imagined walking the beaches, protecting sea turtle nests and being there when the eggs hatch and all the baby sea turtles scurry into the ocean. Unfortunately, my aspirations were somewhat unattainable since I live in NJ and sea turtles nest only on southern beaches where the water is warm.
Vacations provided me with small opportunities. While staying on Hilton Head Island, I often walked the beaches rejoicing each time I found a protected sea turtle nest. In Charleston, I visited the Sea Turtle Hospital where I explored for so long, my companions were ready to leave me there. I read books on sea turtles and explored web sites to learn as much as I could. When I heard that I could “adopt” a sea turtle by donating to help fund it’s healing and wellbeing, I jumped at the chance. Then, when I found out that there was a turtle named “Talbot” who need help, I knew I was on to something good. Soon after I “adopted” Talbot, I introduced my third-grade class to “her”. Through photos, letters from the sea turtle hospital and an electronic tracker once she was released into the ocean, we monitored her progress. It was exciting to be part of her journey. Any student who enters my classroom soon learns of my passion, through children’s books about sea turtles, a sea turtle puppet and science videos, I share my love of sea turtles and soon find I have piqued an interest in many a young conservationist. This has been about all I could currently do to indulge my passion since I am in NJ and there hasn’t been a lot to do with sea turtles in our area.
However, that all changed recently when a friend, knowing my passion for sea turtles, informed me of a sea turtle release right here on the beaches of NJ!!! I was ecstatic and eagerly sought out more information. It was then that I learned of Sea Turtle Recovery, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of sea turtles and educating the public on the important ecological role of sea turtles, threats endangering them and ways to protect their future.” I read that they had opened a state of the art, 4000 sq. ft. facility within the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo! I felt as though a prayer had been answered, suddenly there were sea turtles in NJ and they were being rehabilitated very close to my home! I knew I had to check it out! I hoped in my car and headed right for the Turtle Back Zoo. Arriving with a good friend in tow we headed straight for the Sea Turtle Recovery pavilion. There I joyfully chatted with a knowledgeable intern named Kristin who explained the mission of STR and introduced me to each of the turtles currently being treated at the facility. She answered all my questions including how I can help support this great facility and how to become involved in volunteering opportunities. She gave us the details of Humphrey the turtle’s release and we acknowledged that we would likely see each other at the shoreline on the historic release day.
I woke early on the morning of August 8, ready to fulfill a bucket list item! My daughter and I arrived at Point Pleasant beach about 8:15am, allowing plenty of time to park and make our way to the release site. As we approached the area and noted the large crowd, we also encountered a table where people were signing a release. After inquiring, I was informed that not only was Humphrey the turtle being released but Buddy, The Cake Boss would be filming an episode all about Sea Turtle Recovery and he had baked a cake to celebrate Humphrey’s release! This day just kept on getting better! We signed a release to be in the episode and took our place along the shore beside other enthusiastic turtle lovers. The beach was filled with people of all ages, from babies to retirees, who were all here to witness this wonderful event. Thanks to the folks at STR, Humphrey, an 8-year-old 88lb Loggerhead turtle, who had suffered from a syndrome called “Cold Shock”, was healed and was ready to return to his natural habitat.
Volunteers from STR carefully carried the beautiful turtle to the sea. As they placed him on the ground at the surf, the crowd became silent, each quietly wishing Humphrey safe travels. At first it appeared Humphrey was uncertain if he wanted to swim in the ocean as he turned away, however within moments, nature took over and the sea called to Humphrey. As the tide came in, Humphrey caught the wave and slowly and beautifully swam back to his home. The crowd cheered and I noted more than one tear from the happy observers.
Suddenly from the board walk an ATV appeared carrying Buddy the Cake Boss pulling a giant cake in the shape of undersea coral and a turtle who looked just like Humphrey! The crowd went wild as Buddy explained how thrilled he was to have such a wonderful organization doing such fine things in our state of NJ! He stated that he had created this special cake to honor both the organization and this special day. After a warm speech and presentation to the founders of STR, Buddy invited all those on the beach to enjoy a piece of his artistic creation. The cake tasted as good as it looked.
As our morning began to wind down, I reflected on all I was lucky enough to experience. It was thrilling to see a release in NJ, a true rare event since the water is usually not warm enough for the turtles to swim in. I also rejoiced knowing that by volunteering with STR I too could become a part of this important conservationist work. I knew innately this was something I would pursue and something I would continue to educate my friends and family about. If you are interested in learning more about Sea Turtles please visit the Sea Turtle Recovery Pavilion located within the Turtle Back Zoo or check out their webpage at WWW.Seaturtlerecovery.org. Since my own passion started from reading a book, I have also included some book titles below that will help you to learn more. They are worth checking out! Happy Reading!!!
(*These books are currently available at #PawneePages ~ A Little Free Library in the town of Cranford.*)