Return of the Mother Turtles

The Gulf Coast along Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas is the birthing grounds for four of the world’s species of sea turtles.  Historically mother turtles arrive along Pensacola’s barrier islands from late May through end of August.  Loggerheads, the largest of the species, leave tracks that look like tread marks left by industrial sized tires.  These heavy mom’s are sensitive to light and the slightest elevation in the land.  Turtle moms crawl under moonlight up the dunes, dig a well with their back legs, and then deposit up to 100 round, pearly eggs, covering it over as they return to the sea.  The egg encased young mature in the warmth of the sand, hatching about 7-8 weeks later with the task of removing the sand, clawing their way to the top and onto the beach where they instinctively are drawn to flickering moonlight on the wavelets.  Along the frantic rush to the water’s edge and relative safety in the sea, birds, crabs, raccoons, and other predators may have them for dinner or breakfast.  This form of reproduction depends on broadcasting large numbers of progeny to counter the low odds for survival.

Volunteers with the National Park Service help increase the odds of survival by guarding the nests until hatching, then help infants make it to the sea.  See Barrier Island Girl blog for more information and wonderful photography by D.J. a Pensacolian involved in Turtle Conservation through the Gulf Islands National Seashore and her active participation in local culture and family events and natural rhythms.

See Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song on this blog for more natural history information and conservation issues.

Photo from Defenders of Wildlife Website, National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration. Go here for an excellent summary of the critical conservation issues for loggerhead turtles and Florida coastline development.

Oceans, Bays, Rivers of Life

Today I placed a Social Vibe charity widget on my blog to support the work of  The Surfrider Foundation.  My goal is to bring attention and resources to a citizen’s advocacy network that is making an impact worldwide, but that is also represented here in the Emerald Coast’s chapter by surfer and nature advocates.  We each have a natural interest in sustaining the foundation of life on Earth: water.

Whether saline, brackish or fresh – bodies of water create oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, clean toxins, and spawn untold generations of life at the base of numerous human food and economic resources.  The awe-inspiring beauty, complexity, and biodiversity in the world’s oceans can still be found across our planet, though diminished.  Science is uncovering that ocean acidification and warming are causing changes in basic processes such as shell formation in marine invertebrates at the base of food chains.  Changes from more localized impacts like the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, are harder to follow but observed by many local beachcombers and surfers including moi.

Our coastal communities with the state and federal governments are engaged in major economic diversification efforts for the reason that remaining a tourism-dependent community leaves us vulnerable (Restore the Gulf).  Human error robs us of the certainty that our oceans and watersheds can provide us the beauty, food, recreation and inspiration that humans have relished for all time.

The Surfrider Foundation in Pensacola has joined the Florida Wildlife Federation campaign (Save our Seas, Beaches and Shores) to place a ban on offshore drilling on the November 2012 ballot.  They need to collect 700,000 verified petitions.  Go to this link to download a petition and fact sheet.

See the Ocean Conservancy for more on the health of our oceans overall and for their reports on the Gulf ecosystems post BP Oil Spill.

In Memory of Anne Rudloe

Anne Rudloe – author, scientist, conservationist, and Zen Teacher passed away on Friday, April 27th at her home in Panacea, Florida.  For those of you who have not read her books about the natural ecology of Florida habitats, you are in for a real treat when you do so.  She had just published a second book on Zen practice before  she died (Zen In a Wild Country).  Her passing leaves a cavern in the heart and soul of the Forgotten Coastal area where she and her husband Jack Rudloe founded the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory and Environmental Education Center.  Anne and Jack Rudloe are passionate defenders of Florida’s long leaf pine communities, coastal marine life, and sea turtles.  Their efforts span decades and they are notorious for preventing development to overrun critical habitats in Florida.  Anne was an adjunct professor at Florida State University where she mentored many young scientists and future conservationists.

Anne’s best work of natural history in my view is Priceless Florida  coauthored with Elie Whitney and Bruce Means.  I spent days pouring over the descriptions of the State’s major ecosystems, watersheds, and wildlife communities. This is a Florida Nature Bible for readers who wish to learn the amazing and fragile landscapes and natural resources that humankind has been diminishing since we first arrived on its bays bayous swamps beaches and forested land.

To truly experience the expertise and care that Anne and Jack put into the books they wrote together, I recommend that you read Shrimp, The Endless Quest for Pink Gold.

I met Anne and Jack last summer on a trip to explore the Forgotten Coast and my quest as a new Floridian to find the “Olde Florida” way of life.  A year earlier my sister pointed me toward Jack’s books which she read and loved over the years:  The Living Dock, The Erotic Ocean, The Sea Brings Forth and others written in the 60s, 70s and on. I decided to visit the lab and see if I could chat with Jack and Anne about writing some grants for them.  I ended up spending the afternoon with them and buying a couple hundred dollars worth of their books and conscripting them into signing each one!  How fortunate I was to have any time at all with this wonderful family and the places that they have created for all of us to learn more about nature and thus more about ourselves.  Anne shared her experiences with cancer from when she first learned about it to that day when she was feeling good because she was in between chemotherapy treatments.

Jack drove me out into their beloved swamp – 18 acres that abuts a natural wildlife refuge – the place where Anne meditated.  We drove right up to her on no roads, Jack swerving around the broad base of a virgin cypress, as she sat dressed in all white flowing clothing and straw hat, a colorful umbrella over her head.  It was threatening rain.  How generous both Jack and Anne were to take me to lunch and then to spend hours describing how it all came to be – their dream, wrought out of years of toil and shaky finances – living on grants and what they gleaned from their marine specimen service to research labs all over the country.

For months after I met Anne and Jack I had Anne’s YouTube video – the Nature of Cancer – on my blog.  A close friend of mine received tremendous comfort from it as she was also going through her own struggle with cancer at the time. Many people wrote me that her words were profoundly meaningful to them.  Anne’s practice of Zen Buddhism undergirded her personal perspective on nature and toward the end of her life the full flowering of her understanding comes through dramatically in this latest book which I am reading.  In fact, two days before she passed away I thought of her and went online to the laboratory website and saw that she had a blog. She had made a recent post so I did not even imagine that she might be gone two days later.  I ordered the book and intended to drive down to Panacea in a few weeks to capture that signature again and see how everyone was doing.

To Anne:  I thank you for the legacy of your life’s work and dreams.  And, I bless you on your path into the wonderment that you glimpsed so recently.  May we all reach that place of wordless union with all things.