Edgrens are 16-year turtle watch volunteers
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
Bud and Gretchen Edgren received this year's Sadie award.
Bud and Gretchen Edgren have devoted the past 16 summers to the sea turtles that nest on Anna Maria Island shores.
Edgren said he heard about Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and thought it would be a good thing to volunteer for.
“I’d see crowds of people digging in the said,” Edgren said. “I took a lot of walks on the beach, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Gretchen joined him the next summer.
“I got tired of being a Turtle Watch widow,” she said.
Even before they got officially involved, Gretchen had raised money for the turtles with the Women’s Club and they watched some releases and visited the hatchery.
“Things were done differently then,” Gretchen said. “There was a hatchery at the end of Willow. Ed Callen was involved, and Chuck Shumard had the permit.”
Edgren said they made a big frame e out of plastic tubing, dug up all the eggs laid on the beach and replaced them in the turtle condominium.
“We’d go up there at night, and we had a hatch rate of 90 percent,” he said. “We’d release 16,000 babies into the water at a time. What I don’t miss about those nights is the no see-ums. We were eaten alive.”
As the science of sea turtle nesting and biology advanced, there was a revolution in the way the monitoring and protection measures were done.
“FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) said we had to let Mother Nature take her course,” Bud said.
With the change of regulation at the state level, a lot of the initial Turtle Watch volunteers got discouraged and left the organization.
“I kind of thought that we were having a darned good success rate, and I stood up in a meeting with a state guy and said ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
But times changed, methods changed, and the Edgrens stayed.
“We had to be flexible if we wanted to continue to be of help,” he said. “Our main concern was the turtles, not us.”
Both Edgrens said they could see the reasons for some of the changes.
“The sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the sand,” Gretchen noted. “If all the eggs are in one place, the gender balance could get out of synch.”
To the Edgrens, it seemed that every year, the regulations changed, but they soldiered on for the sake of helping save the marine reptiles who nest here.
“Oh, one year, Bud got his shorts in a twist once and quit, but not for long,” Gretchen said.
The Edgrens manage 14 volunteer walkers and serve as coordinators for a section of beach between 66th Street to the north and 52nd Street to the south, Edgren, who is retired from International Harvester, worries that the beach is quite narrow and sloped downward in his section.
“If the turtles lay close to the water, the nest will almost certainly go under water in just a regular storm,” he said. “If they’re real low, they will be lost. “I’ve finally gotten permission to use my own judgment and to move the nests when they are too low.”
As for Gretchen, a former editor with Playboy Magazine, she’s been hobbled a bit in the last two years with some health issues.
‘I haven’t been able to do diddlysquat on the beach, but I’ve done the paperwork for our section,” she said.
That flexibility and ability to change and grow along with the changes and growth in research into sea turtle biology, earned the Edgrens the Sadie Award from AMITW last year.
That award is named for Sadie, a loggerhead female who was severely injured near Coquina Beach. Sadie was a fighter and after nearly a year recovering from her injuries, she was released back into the wild.
Each year since then, AMITW has given the Sadie Award to a person or persons who shows that same spirit.
“You couldn’t ask for more dedicated people,” AMITW Director Suzi Fox said. “Sometimes Bud and I butt heads, but I love both Bud and Gretchen. They’ve taught me a lot, and they are both just treasures.”