St. Simons to sea turtles: ‘We’ll be here. Waiting. (For as long as it takes)’
By David Pendered
Sea turtles and the volunteers who count their nests share the limelight in the 2020 nesting season in what was the Summer of Pandemic. This includes even the group at St. Simons, which counted just three nests.
Most years, turtles take the headline of the annual autumn story about the number of turtle nests found along Georgia’s coast. And there’s good news this year – an above-average count of 2,793 nests, plus more than 170,000 hatchlings, were documented by the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative.
This good news was provided through the efforts of volunteers. For the 32nd season, volunteers with the group that’s become the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative have helped scientists track sea turtle nests on Georgia’s coast. The number and hours of these volunteers aren’t part of the report to the public of sea turtle nests and hatchlings.
Volunteers came out again in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and whatever upheaval it was causing in their personal lives.
Volunteers walk the beaches to help count these nests and hatchlings. They deliver data to scientists who crunch the numbers. Whatever their motivations, each volunteer agrees to show up, in weather fair or foul.
They come even when there’s not much to count.
The crowd at St. Simons turned a sun-shiny face to their telling of their low-count summer for the end-of-season video compiled for the coop’s Virtual Fall Meeting, which was posted Oct. 21. In one segment, the St. Simons Island Sea Turtle Project: Our Year in 2020, Catherine Ridley, the volunteer project leader, begins the show:
- “Fair warning: This video will probably be a lot like our season – short on turtles, long on theatrics.”
The count of three sea turtle nests through the entire summer on St. Simons Island prompted Ridley to observe:
- “It was a little bit of a bummer of a season. But it does turn out that there are some advantages to being last in the state for nesting. For example, I was able to sleep in, probably more of all of you this summer. So that was nice. And, of course, it gives us much more time to focus on things that really matter. Like end of season videos. So we’re trying to look on the bright side.”
And with that, a rendition of Angel of the Morning begins, a 1960s torch song playing behind a series of slides with a love letter to turtles that reads:
- “Dear Georgia Sea Turtles,
- “Deep down, we always knew you were seeing other islands.
- “And who can blame you? We aren’t the flashiest of the projects – the hot shots that get all the other girls, set all the records….
- “It’s taken us a while to get the message, but we finally hear you.
- “You just aren’t that into us.
- “But like you, we play a mean long game.
- “Our volunteers walk for full seasons without seeing a single track, and still, we keep going. Your rejection hasn’t slowed us down yet – and it never will….
- “So when you’re ready – for a stable, no-frills, healthy relationship – we’ll be here. Waiting. (For as long as it takes).”