When it comes to dealing with a wild animal in distress, there are generally two schools of thought: you either leave the creature and let nature take its course, or you jump in and do everything you can to help. But when forced to make a life-or-death decision, can we really trust ourselves to make the right call?
This was the dilemma a group of marine experts faced when a sea creature washed ashore in the most unlikely place. Though they tried to stick to protocol, a looming threat to the wildlife forced these veterans to resort to the most drastic of measures…
Rockaway Beach has been a landmark of Queens, New York, for over a century. With its well-kept shores and close proximity to Manhattan, this neighborhood has long been considered the perfect place to escape the hot summers of New York City.
As one of the area’s most popular vacation spots, it’s no surprise the crowded beaches of Rockaway aren’t exactly ideal for wild animals. However, that didn’t stop one creature from coming ashore for a very special purpose.
When the animal emerged from the sea, beachgoers spotted it almost immediately, and before long, a large crowd gathered to watch as it shuffled through the sand.
The Durango Herald
The creature was a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, one of the rarest species of turtle on the planet! And while turtle spottings are relatively commonplace on Long Island, finding a Kemp’s Ridley there was as likely as striking gold.
National Park Services
Kemp’s Ridleys are known to live mostly in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, an environment much different than that offered by the icy Atlantic. So, how did this turtle wind up so far from home?
Environmental Defense Fund
Well, the crowd got their answers pretty quickly, as no sooner did the turtle settle itself in the sand that it began laying hundreds of tiny eggs. Beachgoers were amazed at the sight, but these unhatched turtles were in danger.
Sea Turtle Exploration
Despite being buried beneath a thick layer of sand, the eggs were at risk of improper incubation due to the cold climate. It was a huge gamble for the exhausted mama turtle to deposit her clutch here.
USFWS Midwest Region
After the mama turtle returned to the sea, onlookers contacted the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research (RFMR) to come and assess the situation. Arriving within minutes, rescue workers realized the danger these eggs were in and immediately went to work.
To preserve the eggs, rescuers constructed a small fence around the nest that would prevent predatory animals (and curious beachgoers) from snooping around.
Mote Marine Laboratory
Rescue workers returned to the small nest daily to check on the eggs. The RFMR was confident their plan would protect the turtles long enough for them to hatch. But even for all their optimism, mother nature had different plans.
In early September, rising tides from recent storm surges crept ever closer to the vulnerable nest. As the waters slowly ate away at the surrounding area, it was only a matter of time before the unthinkable would happen.
If the waters began to flood the nest, the turtles would most certainly drown; and if that wasn’t bad enough, those that survived would become easy prey. The rescuers knew they needed to interfere, but something was holding them back.
Most wildlife services maintain that one should never interfere in the happenings of nature. But even so, the rescuers were convinced that, in some way, human interaction with the landscape was partially responsible for the looming threat to the turtles.
With this in mind, the RFMR contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a plea for permission to relocate the eggs. The federal agency denied the plea: the eggs must stay, officials said!
Determined to save the turtles, however, the RFMR pushed back. Despite initial protests, Fish and Wildlife relented, and the rescuers got to work on the newest phase of their plan!
Fish and Wildlife Services / Flickr
Finding an impressive 110 of the 116 eggs were still alive, rescue workers collected the unhatched turtles and transported them to a nearby animal care facility. Placing the eggs in high-tech incubators, the RFMR hoped their unorthodox hatching method would be enough to do the trick.
Because the eggs had been laid two months prior and that their average incubation period typically lasted 60 days, rescuers were concerned the turtles might’ve been injured by the flooding or by the move. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case.
After only a week or so of incubation, one of the rescue workers noticed the eggs were beginning to form small cracks on their surfaces. They were hatching! But as excited as the rescuers were, they realized that this seemingly good news also brought with it a handful of new problems.
When baby turtles first hatch, they’re born with incredibly high energy levels – known as “frenzy” – which allows them to hastily make their way into the water and overcome large waves. With the turtle’s energy boosts only lasting a short time, it was vital for the rescuers to get them back to Rockaway as quickly as possible.
In the end, 96 of the 116 original eggs hatched, sending nearly 100 baby turtles scrambling across the sand and into the ocean. The rescue workers cheered watching the tiny creatures hop into the waves.
MattandEileen / WordPress
“It was one of the proudest and [most] exciting moments of my career,” said Patti Rafferty, the Chief of Resource Stewardship for the nearby Gateway National Recreation Area. Sadly, though, this would likely be the last time these rescuers ever saw the many lives they had saved.
Gateway National Recreation Area / Facebook
Because of their small size, the workers were unable to tag the turtles and would not be able to track them as they navigated the open ocean. Still, there’s no denying the role these men and women played in the rescue of these turtles. No matter where they go, these Kemp’s Ridleys will always be New Yorkers. Don’t fugetaboutit!
shalene / Reddit