We noticed on our way to the beach that the night was perfect. No wind, the ocean waves lapping quietly on the shore, glistening under the light of the moon that peaked out from behind the soft clouds. A perfect night.
Without thinking, we stepped off the boardwalk and followed the path to the roped off turtle nest that we had been watching for the past five weeks. It was a routine that had become part of our early morning walks and our evening walks on the beach: check on the nest.
We immediately noticed the shadows of people huddled around the nest. "I hope it's not some dang tourists, we're going to have to yell at again," I said. We noticed the hush and protective air as we got nearer and quickly recognized the Clearwater Marine Aquarium logo on their T-shirts.
"We'll have some babies tonight," someone said as we approached. We joined the huddle, carefully peering down into the small hole that had been created when the movement of the hatchlings moved the sand. You could see the small flippers and a head would pop up every now and then. We waited.
We all talked about the turtles, learned more about the rescue work the aquarium does. We were prepared to sit all night. Occasionally, someone would venture out from the nearby hotel, and eventually they would leave. A father and his son stayed. I don't think anyone ever officially introduced themselves. Yet, we sat, nine of us, huddled around a nest for nearly four hours.
"The birth" happened fast. The hole was larger now and it almost looked as if the small (two inches) turtles were bubbling over. One of the scientists, explained the procedure. The Loggerhead turtles would get a helping hand to the water. She would scoop them up and place them in a waiting bucket and count them (for research purposes) We would deposit them close to the water in a trench that we had dug just for this purpose. Some of us stood near the shore line, the rest of us stood as guards on either side of the trench. The small turtles -- 97 in all -- quickly followed their natural instincts, heading toward the water. We didn't touch or interfere, just watched.
Long after we were back at the house, showered and laying in bed in the early morning hours. We talked about the sight of the baby turtles hatching and being able to witness something so amazing.
Loggerhead turtles -- about one-third of all those born in the world -- are hatched on Florida beaches. There are 34 nests, and we'll be watching the other one down the beach from us. The risks to the baby turtles is high. Only one in a thousand survive to adulthood. But the Loggerheads live to be more than 100 years old. We're thrilled we were able to lend a helping hand of sorts.
We're still in awe.