Turtling South Padre
A photo of a fellow blogger holding an "urban chicken" reminded me for some odd reason of a part of my past I may not have discussed on this blog.
Many years ago I was a "turtle boy".
That didn't mean, as some might expect from my sailing interests, that I was capsizing small sailboats. And, it didn't mean that we kept a bunch of turtles (though we had a turtle outside in a sort of corral or grotto for some years). And it certainly didn't mean that I was hunting or cooking turtles.
It all began as one of my little adventures as a beach-combing, beach-loving kid who had free range over a large chunk of South Padre onward. As a young child I'd experienced much of the power and awe of a hurricane, then became a collector and occasional vendor of seashells and probably the youngest member by far of the local shelling club.
Later, perhaps a year or so before getting a driver's license, I learned about people who were working to save endangered sea turtles. Part of their plan was to hatch eggs on the shores of South Padre Island, in a location that could be protected by US conservation laws. The idea here was that the endangered Kemp's Ridleys would use their innate navigational instincts to return to lay eggs in the place where they themselves had been hatched several years before, thus creating a sustainable sea turtle hatching ground.
Another part of the conservation effort was raising public awareness and support along with caring for and rehabilitating injured sea turtles. That's where Ila Loetscher, South Padre Island's "turtle lady", came in, turning her home and another property into a turtle rescue and exhibition center. Of course, Ila's home was well decorated with sea turtle memorabilia, with many dozens of turtle carvings, statuettes, and similar items. And, of course, none of these had been made from illegal sea turtle parts! I became one of her youngest volunteers and helped show the turtles to groups who came for open houses. I also had the adventure of trying to learn to drive a manual transmission from her when I was about 14, too!
In addition, I helped out and overnighted at the beach camps created to help protect the sea turtle nests and give the turtles a chance to hatch and reach the sea without being snatched up by land or aerial predators.
Sometimes I got a bit creative. Once, when helping set up a camp and after having turned 16 and gotten a vehicle, I happened upon a long, straight log. Tying one end to the hitch ball on my Blazer, I dragged the thirty-foot log to the camp area, dug a deep hole, attached a line, and used ropes to help raise a big flagpole for the campsite.
A unique privilege was arising just before dawn on the morning of a hatch and then seeing the small turtles work their way toward the Gulf of Mexico and the new dawn.
One turtle that was retained for rehabilitation and became an exhibit star was born on the Fourth of July and thus was named Yankee Doodle Dandy. It was interesting twist on the Bicentennial for some folks, to instead of watching parades be watching a tentative and age-old primitive procession of new life toward the great ocean beyond.
Much of the early history of sea turtle conservation and history can be found in the book, "So Excellent a Fishe". And, today, the work that Ila and many other pioneers performed is continued by a small organization known as Sea Turtle, Inc. Please check them out, and give them a visit if you're ever in that part of the world.