Near disaster abated by quick thinking locals
On the morning of June 16, 2014, a nesting loggerhead turtle nearly suffocated in the sand. A hole dug by humans was the culprit, as the sea turtle attempted to return to the Gulf of Mexico and fell into the hole.
Thank goodness for our South Walton Turtle Watch (SWTW) volunteers, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and employees of the Tourist Development Council. Quick actions by all abated a near disaster as all worked together to free the turtle.
Here is a first hand account from South Walton Turtle Watch director Sharon Maxwell:
“This morning Richard Fowlkes got a call from one of the SWTW volunteers walking her assigned area, about a very large loggerhead sea turtle that she found stuck in a deep hole on the beach that somebody failed to fill in. During the night the turtle came up a short distance from the gulf onto the beach and when she turned around to go back towards the water she fell head first into the hole. As turtles cannot go backwards, she continued to try to move forward hole and dug her head in deeper into the sand. A lot of her body and entire head was covered with sand. At first, the volunteer thought the turtle was dead, but she moved one of her back flippers! She reported that the turtle was alive to Richard and he began calling for help while he was on his way to the location. It was impossible to move her as she most likely weighs about 300 pounds. After talking to Sharon, Richard advised Johndra that he was on his way and other help was coming too and to continue her walk to ensure there were no other nests, crawls or strandings that needed our attention. Sharon called other walkers, the TDC, Code Enforcement and the Sheriff’s office for help.
Richard was the first to arrive and tried to lift her as well, but he was unable to. He began digging out the sand around her head and body so she could breath and hopefully be able to move some. That took some time because he wanted to be careful not to harm her or force her head even further in the sand. As runners and beach walkers came along, Richard enlisted their help. They were all so eager to help this amazing threatened sea turtle. Finally, they were able to expose her head and felt some relief that she was alive, moving a little and could now breathe better.
At this point, Richard lead the volunteers to work on digging out the sand around the front of her body so they could attempt to lift her up and give her some leverage to pull herself out of the hole, but she was so heavy they could not move her. Finally more reinforcement arrived. Joe a SWTW volunteer for the Midwest area. With Richard, Joe and Bridgett, the incredible jogger on the beach, they were able to lift her enough to get her to the edge of the hole. Richard said it was like building an escape.
Once she on the edge of the hole, she would from time to time, lift her head. Richard knew she needed water so asked the crowd if anybody had a bucket. Unbelievably somebody showed up with a bucket and Richard filled it with water and poured it on her head and body. That seemed to revive her. There was applause from the bystanders as she began to move her large body out of the hole and slowly walk towards the gulf, her home. Richard continued to pour water over her head and each bucket gave her more strength. Once she started, it did not take her too long to get far enough in the surf to be able to swim out. We watched as she so easily began to swim out lifting her head every once in a while to breath fresh air and we think to let us know she was ok.
Fill in holes after you dig, it is dangerous to both wildlife and humans.
This story is not just about the plight of a sea turtle who was just trying to come ashore to lay eggs, or even about the rescue of that federally protected endangered species. It is about the danger of digging holes on the beach and not filling them in at the end of the day. Holes on the beach can kill adult and baby sea turtles. They are a danger to runners or even people just walking the beach at night. Fill in holes on the beach at the end of the day. Teach your children the dangers of leaving holes on the beach.
SWTW would like to thank all the many caring people who stepped up today to help. We are so lucky to have a great TDC beach patrol, sheriff department, volunteers, and friends on the beach. You are the greatest.