With a little help from friends

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2016

‘One day they just started rolling up,/six pilot whales from way out./Two hundred people pushed three of them back. Oh/it took hours. I tell you all this/because two hundred people usually hurt/what they touch. But not this time./After it was done, they all stood around/for a while, like the humans they used to be,/lamenting the three who were dead./Separateness set in slowly; an aerial shot/would have shown a group moving away/from its center, leaving in ones and twos/toward their large, inconsiderate houses.’

— Stephen Dunn, “Beached Whales Off Margate”


Stewardship. Human beings instinctively “supervise arrangements and keep order” for Mother Nature. It seems to be in our genes. We cannot let the beached porpoise or whale or the injured buffalo calf die.

We have agencies dedicated to the task. The Stranding Response Team at the Virginia Marine Science Aquarium has in the past 20 years rescued or humanely euthanized 2,700 marine mammals, 4,000 sea turtles. Seals, whales, porpoises, loggerheads, Kemps Ridleys — whatever ya got.

Folks to our south may be even more organized, more dedicated. Last year was a record year, with 300 or so turtle nests protected and hatched — in other words, “stewarded.” Of those nests, 95 percent were for endangered loggerhead turtles, the rest mainly green. The average mom was 200 pounds. A typical nest was two feet deep in a lightbulb shape and containing 119 eggs, 54 to 60 days from maturity.

Most are on Hatteras Island. The National Park Services patrol each morning and identify nest sites. The clock starts ticking. The nest site is roped off. After 50 days, the protected site might be extended all the way down to the water.

Volunteers sit up all night and wait for “the boil.” New electronic devices can now monitor movement and predict when the mass birth will come.

The primary predator of baby turtles is ghost crabs. A friend who sits up all night with nests tells me his first act when on duty is to cover up every ghost crab hole he can find — just to make it harder for them to exit and eat newborns.

Turtles that make it, will, in 25 years or so, return to the beaches of their birth and bear their own young. Some say the recent jump in turtle nests is the result of conservation programs 25 years ago. Who would have thought?

We of the Virginia Master Naturalist encourage stewardship — of bluebird nests, of vernal pools, of nature trails, of river shorelines. Be kind to the birds and squirrels and bunnies and snakes.

Consider the stewardship of your community, help create and preserve nature trails, waterways, rain gardens, and wildlife habitat whenever and whereever possible by contributing your labor or by making a financial contribution to a conservation group of your choice.

And don’t forget the turtles.

“The turtle lives twixt plated decks/Which practically conceal its sex./I think it clever of the turtle/In such a fix to be so fertile.” — Ogden Nash

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.