Guest message- Interpretive Ranger Ann Malys Wilson
Message From The Director
The sound of ocean waves breaking on the shore.
The smell of our state flower, the yellow jessamine.
The vibrant green colors of spring foliage.
The taste of a fresh baked cookie.
The caress of the wind on your cheek.
Our five senses constantly enhance our lives and help us navigate our world. Too often we may take our amazing senses for granted, which is a lesson I recently learned through a program called Tour de Turtles.
SC State Parks created a new program this year called Tour de Turtles. Participants traveled from park to park this summer learning all about sea turtles in a four-part program. They searched for giant leatherback sea turtles off the Myrtle Beach fishing pier, trekked up to the jetty at Huntington to spot juvenile green sea turtles, and watched in awe as a loggerhead laid eggs at Edisto. For the last part, each participant chose where they would attend a nest inventory. An inventory occurs three days after a nest emerges and data is collected by counting eggs to determine the success of the nest. Since sea turtles are protected by state and federal laws, various park staff are permitted by SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to work with sea turtles and must always be present when working with either the actual turtle or eggs.
The program quickly sold out as participants signed up from all over the state including Morgan and her mom, Teresa. Morgan is 15 years old and blind. Once we found out Morgan was attending, we realized we needed to share our love of sea turtles in a new and enlightening way using senses other than sight.
Through the years, thousands of park visitors have attended and watched staff and volunteers perform nest inventories at our coastal parks. Hands on participation in a nest inventory would be the best opportunity for Morgan to truly experience the magic of sea turtles. Morgan’s sense of touch is incredibly enhanced, and it would introduce a whole new world that she had never experienced before.
I was excited for our volunteers to share their passion of sea turtles with her. Digging into a nest chamber, the texture of the sand will guide where you should continue digging. Nest chambers are about 18 inches deep and in the shape of a vase. Morgan was able to feel the soft sand where the turtles had dug their way out, and also pat the side of the nest wall to feel how smooth and hard packed it is. This wall helps guide the hatchlings up as they work together to create an elevator out of sand.
Your sense of smell usually alerts you when you have reached eggs! With the sound of crashing waves in the distance, she confidently reached her hand deep into the nest chamber to extract eggs. She learned how to tell the difference between a hatched egg that was broken open and an unhatched egg that was still round and relatively firm. Sea turtle eggs are soft and leathery, not hard like a chicken egg. I watched Morgan explore the eggs with her hands and developed the images in her head and could see it all playing out in her mind by the expressions on her face.
Suddenly, she brought up something that felt different. It was a hatchling still trying to break out of the egg! Normally, we take a hands-off approach whenever we encounter this. It’s exciting and thrilling enough to watch this new life emerge, but Morgan can only “see” it with her hands. As it squirmed and wiggled its way into this dangerous new world, Morgan gently cradled it as it crawled from the egg into the safety of her competent hands. Our group watched in awe since it’s something few people get to experience.
I learned from Morgan as she explained different textures, shapes, and things I have previously overlooked with sea turtles. I have done hundreds of nest inventories in my career, and to be honest, I don’t remember the vast majority of them. But this was one I would not forget, because I experienced it through her.
I was unprepared for the intense emotions generated by watching her navigate my world of sea turtles. I realized I have taken the magic of it for granted.
Most volunteers who work their first inventory, don’t pick up on the nuances as quickly as Morgan did. She was a natural. All of us present that morning learned to “see” in a whole different way. My goal was to provide Morgan and her mom a lasting memory, but I too will cherish and relish this moment as one of the highlights of my career.
By: Ann Malys Wilson, Interpretive Ranger, Myrtle Beach State Park