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Celebrating the Helpers

Booklist + Baking Project

Sometimes it can feel like there is too much bad news when it comes to the oceans. Words like micro plastic, sea level rise, eutrophication, dead zone, harmful algal bloom, noise pollution, pollution pollution, mercury poisoning, over fishing, ocean acidification and coral bleaching are heavy, especially to kids who can feel helpless or even hopeless about the situation. What did Mr. Rogers say? Look for the helpers? Actually, his mom said it:

For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.
There was something else my mother did that I've always remembered: "Always look for the helpers," she'd tell me. "There's always someone who is trying to help." I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.
-Mr. Rogers, 1986

So that's what we're talking about today, looking for the ocean helpers (and celebrating them!) on World Sea Turtle Day, starting with Archie Carr.

Archie Carr (1909-1987) was a naturalist and writer, kind of the Rachel Carson of sea turtles. He wrote (among other things), So Excellent a Fishe: A Natural History of Sea Turtles and Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. He was also a professor, a polyglot, and a gentle soul. Through his work in the Southern United States and around the globe, he brought sea turtle conservation to public attention. While researching for Yoshi and the Ocean, I interviewed with Australian sea turtle biologist, Scott White, who nearly choked on his tea all the way in Western Australia when I admitted that I didn't know who Archie Carr was. Archie Carr, as it turns out, was the father of sea turtle research, reaching beyond taxonomic description, he studied sea turtle ecology and behavior, and was an early voice for their conservation.

World Sea Turtle Day is on June 16th in honor of Archie Carr's birthday and we should celebrate his efforts and the work of all the people that picked up his research and message and carried on the mission.

Finding the Helpers

Cumberland Island Turtle Patrol (Photo Credit: Lindsay Moore)

If you get the chance to visit Cumberland Island National Seashore in the summer, you are bound to see biologists from the National Park Service patrolling the beach for loggerhead sea turtle nests. Doug Hoffman is one such wildlife biologist. He has been patrolling the beaches for 16 summers. What started in 2008 as a local effort for a UGA student’s PhD research, has spread up and down the Atlantic coast, reaching as far north as Virginia and as far south as Florida. Biologists find nests, take samples of mitochondrial DNA, and mark each nest with a stake and a GPS coordinate. The nest that Doug was marking when my kids and I found him was nest 710, which means that it was the 710th loggerhead nest the program had located in the 2022 season. And it was still early in the morning. With 18 miles of beach to patrol, there were plenty more nests that day to locate. “It’s been a big season”, Doug said.

A protective mesh cover is placed over all of the nests to protect the eggs from predators, like wild pigs and raccoons that live on the island.

Stakes mark sea turtle nests along the edge of the dunes on Cumberland Island National Seashore (Photo Credit: Lindsay Moore)

Sometimes if a nest is dug too close to the waterline, the Ranger and his interns have to move the nest. While it sounds like a precarious task Doug assured me that it’s no big deal. One person excavates the nest carefully, collecting all of the eggs, while another person digs a new nest in a better location from the high watermark. It’s all done within the span of about 30 minutes. In this way they are ensuring the nest of these endangered loggerhead sea turtles will not be damaged by tropical storms and high water levels at the end of the summer.

Doug Hoffman with the National Park Service is making a difference, one sea turtle nest at a time. There are many other people and organizations around the world dedicating time and resources to better understand sea turtles and the challenges they face today.

Books that Celebrate Sea Turtle Helpers

Follow the Moon Home

by Philip Cousteau & Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Meilo So

In Follow the Moon Home a group of summer school students in South Carolina cooperate to combat light pollution in their seaside town to protect loggerhead hatchlings. This picture book puts the students front and center as catalysts for change in their community in a very realistic way. Through beautiful illustrations and clear text, the creators break down how to start a successful movement. The kids in the story research the problem, engage the community, and overcome hurdles to achieve realistic goals. Whether a child wants to save turtles, organize a beach or neighborhood clean-up, knit blankets for wounded veterans or organize a music program for a care facility, this book is good for inspiring young helpers.

Image credit: Meilo So/Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books even has a teacher's guide to go along with Follow the Moon Home and help direct discussion in the classroom.

Wind Riders: Rescue on Turtle Beach

by Jen Marlin and illustrated by Izzy Burton

For kids who like magic as well as science, the Wind Riders series may be just the right summer read. In Rescue on Turtle Beach, Max and Sophia discover an old wooden ship hidden in a mangrove swamp that magically whisks them away to Hawaii where there is trouble on the beach. Max and Sophia join Leila and a reclusive lighthouse keeper to help save the sea turtle hatchlings. Up beat and adventurous even if entirely fantastical, this book is fast paced and highly illustrated. With short chapters it is perfect for readers just finding their sea legs in chapter books. The best part may be that it is the first book in a series of missions that the two protagonists will embark on with the help of their ship, Wind Rider. My 9-year-old boy was all in.

Being a Helper

It's important to know that no one needs to be famous, or even a grown up, to make a difference. We've written about it before. Organizing a beach clean up, learning more about the world around you, educating people about recycling or energy use, being a good team player to help someone else make a difference, creating art, music, or performances that inspire others are all ways people can be helpers.

Let's Celebrate

Since, it's World Sea Turtle Day and Archie Carr's birthday, a birthday celebration is in order. Shouldn't there be cake? This recipe from The Cookie Rookie for a chocolate turtle cake was seemed apropos. I let my 11-year-old daughter loose in the kitchen and this is what she made. Don't forget how great baking is for topics in STEM.

Happy World Sea Turtle Day from all of us at Go out and be a helper.

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