Allow me to set the scene for you. You’re riding in the back of a small vehicle, a cross between a four-wheeler and a pickup truck. Buckets and toolkits rattle beside you. The empty beach stretches in front of you, smooth and silent except for the sounds of the engine. It’s two in the morning, and you’re exhausted, but you won’t sleep. The stars twinkle above you, clearer and brighter than they could ever be back home, but you’re not paying attention to them. You’re watching the surf for dark objects. You’re peering down at the sand rushing past you for those distinct tracks. You’re looking for sea turtles.
This was my experience volunteering for the Caretta Research Project last summer, and one I gladly repeated this summer. On Wassaw Island, Georgia, researchers and a half-dozen volunteers patrol the wildlife refuge’s dark and silent beaches for nesting loggerhead turtles. They get the privilege of seeing, up close, a creature who rarely visits the surface, all while collecting research data and protecting their ping-pong sized eggs from danger.
If you’re like me, you came to see one of your favorite animals alive and living in the wild, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I came back for much more than that, though. There was the satisfaction of knowing I was doing something to help an endangered species and assisting in research that may save them in the future.
If you like camping and hiking, you’ll be happy to know Wassaw Island is largely uninhabited, with little electricity, no AC, paved roads, or stores. You have a huge beach all to yourself during the day. There’s even a bit of wreckage from an old plane crash on the island. And after spending the week eating, sleeping, exploring, and turtling with the other volunteers, you’ll never forget the connections you made.
If any of this sounds like something you’ll enjoy, visit www.carettaresearchproject.org, and read the information under the volunteer tab. Make sure you look over the packing list, and I would suggest getting a good pair of rain boots along with the items listed there. Be aware that there is an $800 fee, and be doubly aware that it is completely worth the money. The turtles and I hope to see you there!
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