Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's Turtle Time!

I love this picture of Mom! This was taken in 2003, Mom's second year turtling on Wassaw Island and her first year with the mama turtles. This mama is heading back to the ocean after laying her precious eggs on the beach. Luckily for Mom, this mama came up at dawn which is why Mom got her picture taken with the mama. Doesn't Mom look happy?

Mom is leaving early tomorrow morning to fly down to Savannah to spead another week turtling on Wassaw Island. She looks forward to going down there so much that she talks about it all year long with her fellow turtler Carole. Carole and Mom e-mail each other almost every day as they make plans for the time on the island. Silly turtlers!

Most people have never heard of Wassaw Island and since I know all about it from Mom, I'm going to give you a brief history of it. Mom flys into Savannah, GA because Wassaw Island is right of the coast of Savannah. Wassaw is just south of Tybee Island which most people have heard of. Wassaw, Tybee, Cumberland and many others are part of Georgia's coastal barrier islands. Cumberland Island may sound familiar to you because that is where John Kennedy Jr. was married.

Wassaw is a very young island, having formed about 400 a.d. Fast forward to the 1800's according to the earliest recorded history Anthony Odingsell, a black planter, owned the island along with 11 slaves and Little Wassaw Island. In an attempt to escape a cholera epidemic in 1846, 300 slaves were brought to the island where they died and were buried. No one knows where on the island they were buried and there are many stories about the supposed slave graveyard. This story along with many others add to the mystery of the island. There are so many ghost stories to tell while waiting on the beach for mamas and one of Mom's favorites is Red Eye. Well, I shouldn't say it's her favorite because she is still a little scared of Red Eye and she claims that she sees his ghost on the beach every year.

During the Civil War, the island was successively occupied by Confederate and Union troops and in 1866, a weathly New England businessman, George Parson, purchased the island as a holiday retreat for his family. He build a home and 20 miles of interior roads on the island. The Spanish American War also figured into the history of the island and there is still a fort from that war on the north end of the island. Mom says that the fort looks really creepy at night.

Fast forward to the 1960's when neighboring Skidaway Island was being developed. The Parsons family descendants still owned Wassaw and they became concerned about the future of the island. They wanted to protect and preserve it for generations to come, so in 1969 The Nature Conservancy of Georgia purchased the island for $1 million. The Parsons family retained 180 acres in the center of the island for their personal use and you can see their portion on the map. This is where Mom stays because there isn't anywhere else on the island to stay. Mom and the other volunteers sleep in what used to be the laundry house. The biologists stay in the chauffeurs cabin. There are several family houses on the property and four full time caretakers ensure that the homes and their guests are well taken care of.

The Nature Conservancy sold the island for $1 to the Federal government, which incorporated it into the Savannah Coastal Refuges system on October 20, 1969 when it became a National Wildlife Refuge. Today, it is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which maintains a dock and small headquarters on Wassaw Creek on the southwestern side of the island. This is the dock that Mom uses to get to the island.

Wassaw's amazing 10,053-acre refuge includes beaches with rolling dunes, martime forest, and vast salt marshes. As you can see on the map, salt marsh and tidal creeks separate the refuge from the mainland and Skidaway Island to the west. The turtlers leave from a dock on Skidaway Island for an exciting 1/2 hour boat ride through the marshes to Wassaw. They see lots of egrets and dolphins from the boat and they drink up the wilderness that is all around them as they prepare for island life.

There are 20 miles of dirt roads on the island and seven beautiful miles of beach to be explored. Mom and the other turtlers will patrol the beach from 9:00 pm until 6:00 am each night. Yikes! Loggerheads do not nest during the day due to the heat and chance of predation, so once all the mamas are back in the ocean, Mom can get some sleep. Do you see a problem with this? Number one is that I won't be there to snuggle with Mom! Number two is that it will be daytime. Mom doesn't sleep when it's sunny out. Number three is that it will be hot. The forecast for this Saturday is 100 degrees. And remember, Mom will not have electricity, so no air conditioning. She will bring a little battery operated fan, but really, will that be enough? I hope so for Mom's sake.

Mom will probably only spend a few hours sleeping because she loves the beach and all that it has to offer. Mom and Carole spend lots of time during the day walking the beach, playing in the surf, and looking for shells. Mom loves the lettered olive shell the most and collects them when they are in the surf in June. Mom does not distrub the lettered olive if it is inhabited because the mollusk inside needs its home more than Mom needs it.
Wassaw has never had its forest cleared for timber, cotton, or cattle, so it is very pristine and is considered the most primitive island on the Georgia coast. There are lush virgin stands of oak, pine, and cedar everywhere. Spanish moss hangs from trees everywhere you look as you quickly become entranced in the beauty of the island. Mom loves the smell of the southern part of the island in the early morning. The smell of the pine trees is intoxicating and pulls you into a place you have never been. Even the spiders that weave their webs across the trails are a delight to Mom.

There are so many animals on the island that you could spend an entire summer here and not see everything. There are lots of snakes, alligators, birds, and frogs. Tons of frogs! Sometimes it sounds like a frog symphony during the mating season and it gets so loud that you can't even hear yourself think. The birds are plentiful as well and one of the island's most spectacular visitors is the painted bunting.
Isn't this the most spectacular songbird you have ever seen? Peter Range, the Fish and Wildlife guy on Wassaw, has been studying painted buntings for years. He even lets Mom and the other volunteers help him check his mist nets and collect data. Unfortunately, some of these magnificent birds end up getting captured in Cuba and sold in the pet trade. Remember, wild birds belong in the wild, not in a cage in your home.

In addition to the turtle work, this year Mom will be taking part in a pilot study monitoring program for the horseshoe crab population on the island. These guys are so cool! They have been around for over 300 million years and have remained virtually unchanged. They are not true crabs as they are more closely related to spiders. They uses their tail as a rudder and also to right themselves if they've been turned upside down. They grow by molting and they do this 16 times throughout their life. They can live for up to 20 years, so Mom is sure that she has seen the same horseshoe crabs each year on Wassaw. Carole even works with them back in her home state of New Jersey.
By tagging the horseshoe crabs during their spawning, changes in their populations can be monitored. Everyone in the world owes their life to horseshoe crabs because its blood contains a unique clotting agent that the pharmaceutical industry uses to test intravenous drugs for bacteria. No IV drug reaches your hospital pharmacy without its horseshoe crab test. How cool is that!

I need to help Mom finish packing. I remember the first year Mom went to Wassaw she said it felt like she was going to participate in the show "Survivor". Mom probably wouldn't last one day on that show, but she is going to going to Wassaw for a whole week. I will miss her when she's gone and since it is Mom that turns on the computer each morning and let's me sit on her lap while I type, no Mom means no blogging. I am going to miss all you guys next week, but I will catch up with you after I catch up with Mom when she gets back on the 28th.


Kelly said...

Hi Stubby! Man, this trip your mom is taking sounds SO cool! I know she is very passionate about turtles, and getting to spend time with friends while doing what she loves... well that's just priceless!

I'll miss you for a whole week. Keep your Daddy in line, ok? That's what I have to do when Momma leaves.


Archie and Melissa said...

hi stubby!
oh what a fabulous vacation! your mom is the coolest! we cannot wait to see pictures and hear all about it!

Stubby said...

Hey Pearly Poo - Mom is so excited about her trip that she is running around like a mad woman trying to get everything together. Her bag is going to weigh a million pounds and I won't even be in it.

It will be just us boys next week which can only mean one thing - POPEYE'S!

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Melissa & Emmitt - Mom loves going to Wassaw and she said thanks for the cool compliment. I told her to take lots of pictures so that I can post them when she gets back.

Stubby xoxo

Tweedles -- that's me said...

Hi Stubby
that trip is going to be so fun for your mom! My mom would like to do that too.
And my mama- (not the mommie) is from Savanah Georgia, so she knows all about those places and the history. However when she lived down there- she did not see turtles- just snakes.
We will miss you, have a good time with your dad. And tell mom to have a good time

kim said...

Hi Stubby! I miss your mom at work, but it looks like you and she are having a fabulous summer!