Borrego Springs, CA

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sunday Blast from the Past

In June of 2007, I began my volunteer assignment at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Pea Island is located in the middle of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the coast of North Carolina.

The front yard of my volunteer site was the Atlantic Ocean. I only had to walk about twenty paces to have this view. I spent many on evening walking up and down this pristine beach looking for shells. I have always wanted to live by the ocean, and for a month my dream came true.

I was able to visit all three of the lighthouses on the national seashore.

Bodie Island (pronounced body)...

Cape Hatteras lighthouse...

and the Ocracoke Island lighthouse. Each is painted differently to aid in mariner's navigation. Their beacons at night are also different so sailors knew their location along the coast.
I really enjoyed the names of places here, like Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Ocracoke Island. I ate my first crab cake on Ocracoke Island and liked it.
The visitor's center, where I worked was the busiest that I've worked in. It was not unusual to have over 200 visitors a day and do $800 worth of sales. Besides answering questions, selling items, and restocking, the visitor's center handles all the reservations for the canoe and bear watching tours for Pea Island and it's sister refuge, Alligator River NWR. Normally, volunteers come in pairs and both husband and wife man the center. Since I travel solo, I had to do it alone. The days I worked in the visitor's center, the time flew by because of being so busy. If there was ever a lull in the crowd, I had to lock up and dash across the parking lot to the bathroom. There were always folks waiting for me to return. ;)
One of the enjoyable things I got to do was be a participant in the turtle watch. Each summer sea turtles arrive at night to dig a nest hole and deposit their eggs. These nests are monitored by volunteers and after close to two months, nightly turtle watches begin.
The circle at the top of the picture is the location of the nest. We use garden edging to construct a runway for the young turtles to travel down to the ocean. You're probably wondering why. Well there are two reasons. One is that these turtles are endangered and the path gives them a straight shot to the ocean. The other reason is the most important one. The runway combined with volunteers with sticks patrolling it keep the ghost crabs away from the hatchlings. If we didn't flip the crabs away, they would kill all the young. They run up and snip the muscles of a flipper and then move on to find another victim. Eventually, they come back and drag the incapacitated turtles down their crab holes. If we didn't guard these nests, there would be very few turtles that would make it to the sea. Now if I could just remember the name of this species of turtle I'd be happy, but my mind is drawing a blank right now...sorry.
The eggs are buried deep in the sand and are the size of a golf ball. This photo, and the next, are from the display at the visitor's center. It will give you a good idea of what I'm talking about.

The turtles always hatch at night and use the light of the moon to direct their way to the ocean. There can be close to one hundred eggs in a nest and most hatch at the same time. When they begin to climb to the surface it is called a boil, and that is exactly what it looks like....water boiling. I was lucky enough to be on hand when a nest hatched. The nests are "watched" from 7:00 pm until midnight. My first night on patrol, we had a boil at about 9:45. It was my job to count the number of hatchlings as they began their way down the path. We had 49 hatch that night, and all made it to the ocean thanks to the diligent stick patrol! You might think it would be easier if we just picked them up and carried them to the water, but that won't work. Each hatchling must make that perilous journey on it's own so that the location of the beach will forever be imprinted on them. That way, they will know where to come back to breed when they are old enough.


I have many more memories of my time at Pea Island. It was a dream come true to live by the ocean (although having to completely wash the rig each week because of the salt spray was a challenge!)


Thanks for stopping by....talk to you later, Judy


  1. Judy, I really enjoyed reading this post. What a lucky person you are to have had such an enviable experience!
    PS--Got the fifth wheel!!

  2. I have had some great experiences, and this was one of the best. Stay tuned for next week's blast for more great times in this area.