Adventures Aboard the Hawksbill: My Time with the Turtle Team
Holly Lynn Claude
Contributing Author
Saturday morning, fuel and provisions loaded, the USGS gear all stowed aboard and one scientist as passenger, we set off from Key West aboard the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation’s 65’ Bertram ‘Hawksbill’, to rendezvous with the remaining USGS scientists and their 3 small whalers. Our destination, the western coastal Everglades. Their mission, to brave the muddy creeks at low tides in search of Terrapins for further research that has been ongoing since the early 2000’s. This involved being up before dawn for some low tides, working after midnight for others, twice a day, the entire time we were out with them.

We were 8 people onboard the Hawksbill as we acted as their support boat and outdoor lab, the mood upbeat and cheerful despite their grueling hours and the extent of mud that covered certain members as they sloughed through the creeks in search of turtles, fiddlers and snails.
Those snails had a tendency to escape their buckets and had to be hunted down on the aft deck and returned with reprimands to stay put. The USGS group of 6 collected terrapins for their research, recording data, measuring and all those things that scientists do to further the study and preservation of our natural world. (I’m crew, not a scientist!)

It was intriguing being just an observer, to see the serious work that they do with such devotion with smiles on their faces and a quirky comment not far from the surface. We had a laughter filled conversation about how the turtles felt about being abducted by aliens, and whether the other turtles believed them once they were released back into the wild. This ended with many ideas on how the turtles cope with the aftermath of being in a bright orange place with no way out, through community supported therapy sessions. This is a group of dedicated, hard working scientists that love what they do and it shows. It was a joy to have them aboard the Hawksbill and hopefully they were able to relax and unwind after each trek into the creeks.

After days of sustained winds out of the east at 15-18, the Hawksbill riding her anchor, nose to those winds with barely a ripple, allowing a stable work area on the aft deck for all that research, that last night the winds calmed for a short time and we all gathered to watch the sunset. As their 3 boats calmly rode the lines that connected them to us, it was a winding down, let your hair down moment after the days and nights of work. It seemed their mood as they watched that beautiful sunset was almost pensive, reflecting on a job well done. Living on naps they looked forward to a hot shower and a good night’s sleep that night. Up at dawn that last morning they secured all their data and gear, loaded up their whalers and headed back to their home port of Flamingo with the winds still blowing hard from the east. Although there was a moment when one of them, alone in the smallest whaler seemed to be contemplating a trip to Mexico. Those of us on the Hawksbill had to point him in the proper direction with laughter and many hand signals and shouts.

All in all the time spent with those bright minds was an adventure, we dealt with the winds and the tides, the sleeping and eating arrangements like we’d been doing those things together for a long time. There were hugs with the good byes, calls to do it again, group photos and more laughter as one was doing promos for products and another that couldn’t find a certain set of keys. Let’s hope he found them!

This is the mission of the National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation, to support all those that make their life’s work the study and preservation of the turtles and the waters they call home. And through that work, expanding our knowledge of how all life is connected. I was honored to be apart of that group and will always remember my time on the Hawksbill with those 6 USGS scientists as moments to look back on and smile. Fair winds and following seas to all those that dedicate their lives to working on the water, preserving the life in and on those waters for the future, for our hope of a better tomorrow.
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National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation
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