09 October 2008

It May Not Look Like Much...



But the damage to this POD door reflects a second ATV theft and a third break-in for the turtle patrol in the Pensacola Beach area this season. How utterly cruel that someone would choose to further jeopardize the survival of already endangered species by interfering with our efforts to protect them...

Our intern, Sally, called me at 0530 this morning to ask if I could bring an ATV to the beach for her. At first, that seemed a little odd as she was calling from a location where we store an ATV to assist with turtle patrol work. Sally hadn't opened the storage unit (in case there were prints) but the lock was obviously gone...

Sally and I waited for park police to arrive to take over the break-in investigation, then we left on a NPS mule to check on a sea turtle nest that still had a screen on it from the night before. The screens keep hatchlings that emerge unattended from wandering north, east or west towards lights from neighboring towns while also keeping ghost crabs, gulls and other predators from reaching the tiny hatchlings. Normally, a nest is only left screened while an intern, volunteer or staff member is away from one nest while checking on others. As this nest was in the middle of the Santa Rosa area, and the road is still inaccessible after new damage from Gustav and Ike, there was no way to get to this nest without an ATV, mule or four-wheel drive. Sally and I were not able to leave the break-in to check on the nest until nearly 7am, which is pretty late for hatchlings!

While en route to the nest, our day got even better... The new mule (with only 210 hours on it) broke a belt, leaving us stranded west of the Opal Beach pavilions, about three miles from the nest and maybe 6 from Portofino. We called Mark to come rescue us with his 4wd, and wandered to the north shore to search for the flamingo while we waited. No flamingo sighting today. Mark drove down to the nest before coming back to help us to be sure no hatchlings were trapped under the screen. None had emerged yet, so we were relieved to know we hadn't caused any tiny turtles undue stress.

Once Mark met us west of Opal, he chained his huge truck to our little mule and tried to pull it out... No such luck. Sally, Michelle (who came along with an ATV to help us get unstuck) and I all tried to push the mule while Mark pulled with his truck. Still no luck. Guess the mule was being as stubborn as, well, a mule...



Happily for us, the road crews have started back to work in the Santa Rosa area. At the moment, they're mostly moving sand and debris from this seasons storms in order to reach the road slated for repairs before Gustav hit. Their big bulldozer was just what we needed -- those huge tires are no match for even the softest sand.

The road crew soon had the mule back on the road, and we chained it to Mark's truck again. He towed us back to the Park East parking lot where Mark, Michelle and I pushed it at a run to get it loaded back on a trailer while Sally steered (no easy task with a trailer about two inches wider than the dead mule), and it was off to Kileys for repairs... All before 9am.

The rest of the day was pretty routine... Bird surveys, funding meetings, and Star awards for Mark, Gary (in the MS district) and yours truly. Want to read what the Chief of Science and Resource Management had to say? It might read well if you double click it, but I just took the photo with my phone, so it's a little fuzzy, and the hatchling numbers are off -- we now have nearly 3800 in the water!




* update: the ATV was found by a visitor on the beach later in the day. Apparently, someone took it for a ride, jumped an erosion bluff and immersed it in the Gulf. It has a lot of salt water damage, but the good guys at Kiley's are fixing it, and the mule...

4 comments:

Barrier Island Girl said...

OMG! What a day! And how awful about the ATV...again! At least this time you found the missing vehicle, though much worse for wear. {{{sigh}}}

It's very sad to know such bad deeds happen on our beautiful island and potentially impact your work with the sea turtles.

Lisa Loo said...

i wanted to come out of lurking just long enough to tell you how much happiness it brings to my soul that there are people out there like you actually working to make the world a little safer for all the critters.

Jeremy K said...

congrats on the certificate! You've had an impact on more than just the turtles, my friend.

Tony Miller said...

Congrats on the award. You deserve it.

International Coastal Clean-Up!

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