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Memoirs of a Sea Turtle Encounter

Protecting sea turtles from deadly lights changed my life!

How did I get where I was? I had lost my job, I couldn’t pay my bills and at the age of 32 it was utterly humiliating. I certainly didn’t envision my 30’s to look like this – unemployed, searching for my way, and feeling completely lost. Nope, I grew up with posters that said: “Follow Your Dreams” with wispy pictures of glorious beaches and fantasy houses. And I believed in those thin pieces of paper thumb-tacked to the wall. Really, I did.

But my experience would dictate a completely different path, something far from fantasy. I had just gotten sober, a direct reason I lost my job in the first place, drinking every damn day to avoid life. I didn’t know how to function. Stopping the one thing that gave me the courage to live was suddenly a nightmare. I literally lost my soul and time was running out collecting unemployment. I had no idea what I was going to do to make my car payment, pay rent, and feed my dog Milo. Gosh, I loved that little creature. He was my heart, and I owed it to him to find a job.

Let me give you a little background before I continue. When I was growing up, I had two fears; one of the dark, and one of snakes. Really, you just don’t know what’s lurking out there in those shadows creeping around at night. My head goes to some pretty strange places making up crazy stories. And the snakes, well those creepy creatures slither around hiding in crevices. These two fears debilitated me to the point where I would pull every drape shut to avoid seeing any darkness outside, and the only snake encounters I wanted were on TV.

Back to finding a job. Despite my crazy and odd behaviors while intoxicating myself, I had some very supportive and caring friends of which one knew someone searching to fill a seasonal positon working for the county. I didn’t think I was worthy, still trying to get my bearings functioning without alcohol, but I was desperate. It turns out the job was patrolling the beach at night protecting sea turtles. During the interview, I was asked how I felt about working at night. I thought about the first time I truly faced one of my biggest fears. It was several years prior working as an animal control officer, and I had to catch snakes. I got that job because I lied and told them I wasn’t afraid when we all know deep down inside I was terrified. The first time I encountered a black racer it was one of the most awkward and scary moments, but once I caught that snake I felt a sudden lightness proud that I had pushed past my fear. As I sat in the interview shaking my head and verbally saying I was not afraid of the dark, I knew I was lying, but I also knew that I could walk through it.

I was offered the role of Beach Lighting Officer (BLO), and I promptly started learning the ropes of patrolling the beach at night looking for lights that hinder nesting sea turtles and hatchlings (baby sea turtles). That first year as the BLO challenged me mentally and physically starting my shift at six in the evening and not ending until one or two in the morning. Riding an ATV over dunes and wooded areas containing shadows that appear to be clusters of kidnappers just waiting for me – many nights seemed longer than others when my imagination got the best of me.

By my second year as the BLO I had become a seasoned expert. I settled into the job and was learning about marine biology like I never imagined. Learning about the biology of sea turtles and tidal changes in relation to the moon empowered my confidence. And what I was about to experience was going to give new meaning to this job I took to help pay my bills and ultimately push me past a fear I never thought I would overcome.

It was June 1st, 2010 and I was out conducting a routine night survey. The headlights from the ATV grazed the outline of a very large blob emerging from the ocean moving up the beach leaving a sandy track in its path. I stopped the vehicle immediately and turned off the lights. I watched in complete awe and wonder, as the most magnificent loggerhead began to scoop the sand with her back flippers. As I stared in amazement, I realized I was witnessing her dig the egg chamber where she would soon drop her eggs. The sound of her flippers scrapping the wet sand was like music – I forgot that any dark shadows in the dunes existed. The beach was quiet, not a soul in sight except me, the sea turtle, and the full moon. I wasn’t afraid! I just sat and watched as she dropped one white mucous egg after another. Sitting with her through the process was like something out of National Geographic. It was surreal. It was jaw dropping. It was truly amazing. I just kept thinking; someone pinch me, I cannot believe this is happening right before my eyes.

The rest of the 2010 season privileged me to ten plus sightings. The full moon became my greatest friend and riding an ATV at night learning to navigate tidal waters, and beach terrain taught me that I could trust myself and learn new things. Those initial fears of the dark slowly became my ultimate gifts. After four years of walking through one of my greatest fears, I chose to pursue other dreams and start my own writing business and nonprofit. My job and role as a Beach Lighting Officer gave me the strength and courage to step out on my own. I now teach about marine life awareness and I encourage anyone to live fearlessly because that is where life begins!

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