My wife and I spent a recent weekend in the Ten Thousand Islands, part of the Rookery Bay Reserve, onboard our catamaran, Pandion. Since retirement nearly two years ago from my former job at Rookery Bay Reserve and becoming the Friends' Executive Director, we have had the opportunity to spend more time exploring the 110,000-acre Reserve. It is truly an amazing wilderness experience, and a powerful reminder of why we should care about this incredible place.
Anchored in a secluded bay, my favorite time of the day is early morning. The first thing that hits you is how quiet it is. No distracting sounds of traffic or boats. No sounds at all. Until your ears adjust, and you slowly begin to pick up the sounds of wilderness: a tarpon rolling at the surface, a loggerhead sea turtle head popping up to take a curious look at Pandion, dolphins cruising through the shallow bay seeking schools of fish, and the occasional call from a heron. A flight of pelicans soars directly overhead -- it is so quiet that you can hear the sound of their wings on the air.
On this morning, I was watching through binoculars as a few raccoons and herons foraged for food on a nearby beach. As I scanned the scene, a female loggerhead sea turtle lumbered out of the water and crawled up on the sand, heading for high ground. This is nesting season for sea turtles. A highly unusual sight in daylight since most loggerheads dig their nests at night.
As I watched the turtle slowly make her way up the beach and into the sea oats, a lone boat quietly came into view. It was the Rookery Bay Reserve’s sea turtle team of summer interns, arriving to conduct their daily work of checking the Reserve’s beaches for signs of recent nests. If they find a nest, the interns mark the location and construct a cage of wire mesh designed to keep predators like raccoons from reaching the eggs.
This made for an interesting scene, watching the interns conduct their beach patrol, knowing that a loggerhead was hidden in the sea oats. Our interns did exactly what I had expected, on realizing they had stumbled upon an active nesting sea turtle. They stopped and watched from a distance, making sure that there was no disturbance. And they saw an event that very few people will ever witness.
This is the kind of experience that will likely stay with our interns as they complete their summer project at Rookery Bay, and move on to finish their academic efforts and start their careers. Perhaps, even nudging them towards working on conservation of wildlife.
Rookery Bay Reserve’s pristine waters, forests of mangroves, and barrier islands provides foraging and nesting grounds for sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, and a diverse array of wildlife. The Reserve is also a magnificent wilderness experience for those willing to explore it, and take the time to watch and listen.
Learn more about our Adopt a Sea Turtle Nest program, and the work of our summer interns.
Gary Lytton, Executive Director
Friends of Rookery Bay