Teachers spread the word about turtles
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
AMITW Volunteer teacher Claudia Wiseman,
left, observes Jackie Skarritt, another teacher, and Kaitlyn Gulbrandson,
10, of Weekie Wachee, as a nest is excavated and the egg casings are counted.
AMITW Director Suzi Fox looks over Kaitlyn’s shoulder.
Every year, sea turtles migrate to the Island to lay their eggs on our shores. And every year, Michigan teachers Glenn and Claudia Wiseman and Dan and Jackie Skarritt migrate to the Island to help Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch in its efforts to save the threatened and endangered species that nest on our shores.
"They are such an asset that it’s just unbelievable," said AMITW Director Suzi Fox. "They’re always teaching, and they’re always helping."
After a turtle nest hatches, volunteers wait two or three days and then dig into the nest to make a count of the eggshells, which gives an indication of how many hatchlings emerged. Any stragglers – hatchlings that haven’t emerged from the nest yet – are collected, put together with other stragglers and released. It’s best to release a number of babies together, because it’s too easy for predators to pick off a lone hatchling.
Last week, the Wisemans and the Skarritts were on hand to excavate a nest near the 66th Street beach end. They brought a turtle skull, the upper shell of a huge loggerhead, temporary tattoos, cards with information about sea turtles and a willingness to answer any question posed by people who gathered to observe the activity.
When she first began digging into the nest, Claudia Wiseman encountered a live hatchling.
Everyone came closer to observe the baby as Dan Skarritt quietly put a layer of sand into a bucket.
Glenn Wiseman held the baby in a gloved hand and carefully let each person have a close look.
When Claudia dug up a baby with only its head out and the rest of its body still in the shell, people came even closer.
"It’s called a pip," Wiseman said.
"Will it be OK?" wondered Kaitlyn Gulbrandson, 10, who was spending a week on the Island with her family from Weekie Wachee.
Wiseman said that sometimes babies like this will make it, and he carefully put it into the bucket with the other hatchling.
The excavation continued as empty egg casings were brought out of the nest.
"We’ll count all the eggs to see how many hatchlings emerged from the nest," Jackie told the crowd.
"We only count them when we have more than 50 percent of the egg," Wiseman commented. "Everyone across the whole state counts the same way, so all the numbers are consistent."
When all the eggs had been counted, Skarritt entered the number 130 on his data sheet. There were also six unhatched eggs, the live hatchling and the live pip.
All during the excavation, the teachers from Michigan were talking about sea turtles and spreading the word to the people watching.
The discussion was easy. People – adults and children alike – asked questions and got answers.
"They’re like this wherever they go on the beach," Fox said. "We are just so lucky to have them."
The Wisemans have worked with AMITW each summer for the five years now. They originally came for a visit with Glenn’s mother, Annabelle, who lives in Holmes Beach. With their interest in the environment, it was perhaps inevitable that they would have found their way to Turtle Watch.
"We like everything about nature," Claudia said. "We’re great hikers, and this program is so wonderful for us. What a wonderful opportunity it is to work hands-on to help save a species."
After the Wisemans had been working with the turtle program for several years, the Skarritts found their way to Fox and mentioned that they were teachers visiting from Michigan. Jackie is a retired art teacher and Dan is a retired communications and theater teacher.
"You have got to meet the Skarritts," Fox told them.
"She was right," Jackie said. "We have so much in common, and we look forward to spending time together in the summer."
Glenn, who still teaches a special education class in Michigan, has his students paint the yellow on the stakes used to mark off nests. He brings them along when he makes the drive to the Island each summer.
The Skarritts and the Wisemans say that they don’t know of any way they could better spend their summer than with Turtle Watch.
And as the excavation was nearing completion and the egg casings were being returned to the nest cavity to be covered over with sand, Jackie handed each child a perfect little shell with a baby turtle painted on it