If you watch Animal Planet - you probably know what Loggerheads are. I only have basic cable, so loggerheads were a mystery to me until I read a wonderful story in the Guideposts May 2007 issue. I have such a hard time parting with these wonderful little magazines and especially all of the 2007 group because that year was devoted to stories re "Living Green."
So over a year later I picked up this issue and sifted through the pages again stopping at the amazing picture of this white-haired lady with a sparkling smile and twinkling eyes holding close to her a baby green loggerhead turtle. Well, I didn't think I wanted to hold one so close until I read her remarkable story.
In 1970 Jean and Fred Beasley of Ohio honeymooned on Topsail Island, North Carolina. While there, they had fallen in love with the beaches and decided it would be their vacation venue each summer. During one vacation, her brother Richard spotted an animal- the size of a truck engine coming out of the water and making its way right to their house. Eight-year old Karen was immediately interested and asked - "What is it?" Jean knew it was a sea turtle making its way ashore to lay her eggs.
The turtle began digging with her back flippers and sand flew through the air smacking against the porch. Intrigued, some family members watched for awhile but soon retreated inside. Not Jean and Karen. They watched fascinated until two in the morning when the turtle finally finished laying her eggs and then crawled back into the churning waves of the ocean.
The next summer both Jean and Karen hoped they could find some traces of the hatchlings that had since made their way into the sea. But looking at the spot where they knew the eggs had been buried, they were disappointed to find not even a trace of their birthing. Not knowing when the eggs had actually hatched, they began to search for information which they finally found it in a government pamphlet.
They learned that their visitor had been a loggerhead --one of seven species of turtles who were either endangered or threatened. Amazingly, the sea turtles live their entire lives in the ocean, except for the females who travel hundreds, or even thousands of miles returning to the exact beaches where they themselves had been hatched decades earlier -now to lay eggs of their own.
It would take about 60 days for the turtles to hatch, but by that time the Beasleys had been back in Ohio. But the next summer and each summer thereafter they returned to not only sweep over the trenches left by the mothers so that their nests would be protected, but they also would be there to dig roads in the sand during the hatching time so that the babies could follow them down to the surf.
People soon found out about these two devoted turtle watchers and when Fred retired in 1990, the family moved to Topsail permanently.
By 1990 Karen had graduated from college and got a position with a public relations firm in Charlotte. How proud she and her family were of her realizing her career goals. But then the unthinkable happened. Karen developed a nagging cough which turned out to be serious. She had leukemia. Karen needed rest and so had to give up her dream job and retreat to the cottage at Topsail to live with her mom and dad and her beloved loggerheads.
Though ill, she continued their work with the turtles and during this time when they were getting many calls of mother turtles laying eggs up and down the beach, she encouraged her mother to start an organization for this enterprise. And so the Topsail Island Project was born.
Karen realized the vital role which turtles play in the ocean eco-system. She began lecturing schools and libraries explaining this role-- noting that their disappearance from the ocean would also mean that the oceans are dying. She knew that the extinction of this species would be permanent and irreversible.
As she was fighting to save the turtles, she was losing her own battle to save her own life. One autumn evening she mentioned to her mother that her employment had entitled her to a life-insurance policy. She asked her mother if she didn't survive to make sure the insurance money be used for the turtles. Although this conversation was painful for Jean, she promised to abide by Karen's wishes.
One night they received word that a big female had come ashore near them. Despite not feeling well, Karen told her mother she wanted to help the nesting turtle -- keeping an eye on her --but far enough away as to not disturb her. The two critical parts in helping the loggerhead was first protecting the nesting mother and then 60 days later helping the newly hatched turtles make their mad dash to the water.
Though exhausted, Karen stayed until the mother turtle layed her eggs and
returned to the ocean. She promised her worried mother that she would sleep in the next day. She never regained her strength or vigor and two days later - short of her 30th birthday, Karen peacefully slipped away like the turtles she loved returning to their ocean home.
Four years after her death, a 40- pound immature loggerhead turtle washed up on the beach at North Topsail Island. Severly injured-- probably by a boat propellor, Jean took it to the N.Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The vet observed that this was one lucky turtle because Jean found him when she did. Dr. Lewbart told her "He's also lucky that his braincase wasn't broken or his optic nerve severed by the
propellor that hit him.
Jean decided to call him Lucky and quickly found a discarded fiberglass tank for him to recuperate in. After 18 months of healing, Lucky was finally carried to the sea by Jean and the Turtle Project volunteers. "So long, Lucky," Jean said, as he slowly flapped out to sea. "May the Lord watch over you."