My name is Caleb and I am one of the sea turtle interns for the summer. I’m a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University and this is my first internship. I’m very excited to not only have this time to gain experience, but to also learn more about the things I love so much!
I arrived May 17th and a couple days later went through training. I learned quite a bit about sea turtle anatomy and behavior, as well as what to expect during my stay at Hammocks Beach State Park.
During the first week or so it was a lot of fun changing my schedule to become nocturnal and experience the beach in a new form that I had never seen before. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the beach under the moon is a very different beach than the one under the sun. There are animals that go unseen during the day because they much prefer the dim light of the stars and the moon. Sea turtles, I discovered, are one of these animals. They rarely come on land, but if they do you can bet it is most likely to be during the night and its a female looking to nest.
The other interns and I drive up and down the beach each night looking for turtle tracks coming up out of the water For the first three weeks we would jump and slam on the brakes for any dune that just happened to have resemblance to a turtle or if we “thought” we saw something coming out of the ocean that looked like turtle tracks. It was quite amusing and after a couple of days of this we also started playing jokes on one another by grabbing the driver by the shoulder and shouting about how we had seen a turtle swimming in the water. It was quite amusing for joker to watch the driver jump on the brakes and yell “WHERE!”, while the passenger laughed uproariously. These moments in particular I know I will look back on and smile.
It was the third of June when we finally had a false crawl. This is when a nesting turtle comes up onto the shore and because the dunes are too high, or animals/people may have scared her, or she simply doesn’t think that strip of beach is right for her babies to hatch on, she crawls back into the ocean and searches for something better suited for her and her eggs. Danica and I were on patrol that night and it was very amusing to see her reaction. She slammed on the brakes screaming “WHAT IS THAT!” while jumping out of the car so fast I was still in a daze as to what was going on. We discovered quite quickly that what was left was just the turtle’s tracks. We were both quickly filled with disappointment, but also filled us with hope that the turtles were finally making their way in to nest.
Since the we have had nine false crawls and three turtles that actually nested. It’s been quite an experience watching the turtles dig their hole, lay their eggs, cover them, and slowly make their way back out into the ocean. As it is to be expected, they’re quite tired when they’re done laying over 100 eggs. They’re magnificent creatures and some of them even look like the ocean as they come in carrying barnacles on their backs and bio-luminescent plankton that is stuck to their shells. The summer has just begun and I know many more turtles are to come. Every new one is unique and a very different experience. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer holds.