Monday, August 19, 2013

Into The Sea

As many of you may have figured out, I have been in love with the ocean since I was a little girl. Despite growing up in Chicago, many of my earliest memories are filled with trips to the Shedd Aquarium, beaches, and books and documentaries about the ocean. I have known since I was five years old that I wanted to be a marine biologist/play in the ocean, but I never could have expected that I would have as many amazing opportunities as I have had so far in my young life.

This week I traveled to North Carolina to visit my friend Liz (check her out! She's a teacher and super fabulous) and to see Holden, the sea turtle I fell in love with last summer when I worked at Sea Turtle Camp, return to the ocean.

As a Sea Turtle Camp counselor (the same camp that sent me to Costa Rica), I had the opportunity to work with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Island, NC. Towards the end of my summer there, a green turtle came into the hospital with a severe head injury and injuries to his carapace (top shell). He was not on display at the time because he was so critical, but two of the interns that I befriended let me go see this turtle in isolation. It was love at first sight. The first time I visited Holden, no one was sure that he was going to make it. The next time I saw him, he twitched a little when we got close to his tank. The third time, he crawled toward me. The next time I went to the hospital, Holden was on display and I was given the opportunity to scratch his back and babysit him while he sunbathed to make sure he was breathing on his own (turtles are voluntary breathers and CAN drown in the water). To say that I was captivated by this little green turtle is an understatement. I grew attached to him so quickly and it was hard for me to say goodbye to him when I left at the end of the summer.

Holden underwent an innovative surgery to repair his head wounds (read about it here) and his progress over the next year was closely monitored. There were times when his survival did not look promising, but he pushed through and got cleared for release 1 year and 2 days after his admittance (incredibly fast for a head wound).

I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it to his release, but when Charlie, a former intern at the Sea Turtle Hospital, messaged me and gave me all of the info, I did not hesitate to plan a trip. I arrived in NC on Sunday, got to see Holden on Monday afternoon, and I was ASTOUNDED to see how big he had gotten:

I got about 10 minutes with him, where I talked to him, gave him words of encouragement, and just admired his progress. He was released on Thursday afternoon and I cried, a lot. They were happy tears. He was released with two other turtles and to see these turtles return to the water brought joy to my heart. I cried when Holden was carried down the beach and placed into the water because it made me realize how much can change in a year. I recently wrote a post about how things have changed for me over the last year, but to see things change for this endangered and beautiful creature was amazing. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to experience this. It is definitely something I will never forget.

Later, I returned to Myrtle Beach State Park, the place where I spent a summer with sea turtles and fell in love, and had the opportunity to inventory a nest. There were no hatchlings left in the nest (good for the babies, disappointing for the crowd), but the nest next to it had two little babies crawl out of it! The crowd got to watch that and it reminded me how special it is to see babies begin their journey.

After the crowd left the beach, I had the opportunity to see a SECOND nest hatch and follow four little turtles (those were the ones I was in charge of) all the way to the water. Again, I cried. Seeing sea turtles is such a magical experience and it's something I will never tire of. The babies know exactly what to do and they are such a symbol of hope. Even though the odds are against them, they make their way to the ocean, unafraid of what lies ahead. I think we all could take a few lessons from sea turtles.

(shared from a friend)

My life as a young marine biologist/environmental educator has been filled with amazing opportunities. I am forever grateful for all of the sacrifices my parents have made, but I am so thankful for Mother Nature. Her ocean soothes me and houses so much magic and so many opportunities for exploration. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me as I continue to play in the waves. 

What is something that you have loved forever? Have you ever seen a sea turtle?