Our family has made lots of trips to my parents’ Jensen Beach condo with the wraparound porch, a stone’s throw from the crashing Atlantic. We always return to spots like Bathtub Beach and restaurants with nautical names, Captain’s Galley and King Neptune.
Last week’s Florida vacation was memorable because of the fun we had together and the surprises nature presented. The first occurred when Spark and I rode our bikes past the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant and on to Blind Creek Beach, our turnaround point. We always stop there for water and a snack.
This spot’s been our haunt because we saw manatees there once, from the dock that extends into the creek. The area is serene, the creek forming a pool surrounded by mangroves and dense foliage, elegant cranes stepping gracefully along the water’s edge.
Last Saturday, cranes weren’t the only creatures using the creek for breakfast. The snuffling nose of a manatee surfaced. Seeing one of the gentle giants would have been thrilling, but we were privy to watching eight or more and a baby too. They hung around for more than an hour, sometimes within 5 feet of the dock where we stood mesmerized, shooting photos and videos.
Another natural wonder on Hutchinson Island are the sea turtles, several different types come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand.
In an effort to help this endangered species, their nests are marked with small wooden stakes and orange tape, noting the date the nest is discovered. Posted signs warn people not to use bright lights in their beachfront properties because the light might disturb the sea turtles.
There were four nests near our condo, but we didn’t see any of the babies hatch at twilight and flipper-pull through the sand to get to the ocean. It’s a perilous trek we didn’t realize was so difficult until we drove an hour south to the Loggerhead Marine Lifecenter in Juno Beach.
Definitely Worth a Visit
If you’re ever in Jupiter, Fla., for Cardinals’ spring season, pay this amazing place a visit. The center is manned by 34 paid staff and 350-400 volunteers who obviously love their jobs. When you enter the building there are educational exhibits on the invasive tiger fish, as well as information on Florida’s mangroves and sea creatures, and the different types of sea turtles native to the area, with models of the turtles, and an example of a nest, cutaway so the eggs can be seen.
Outdoors the center truly captivates — visitors can view turtles in the hospital and others recovering in tanks for an up-close view of the massive herbivores. A placard near each tank gives info about where the turtle was found and highlights its health issues and treatment plan.
We were fortunate to be able to talk to two volunteers who provided us with details about the turtles and statistics that shocked us. In the 9-mile stretch of beach just beyond the center, over 19,000 turtle nests were recorded last year.
Yet the survival rate for the little ones making their way to the ocean is dire — many get picked off by sea birds, or plucked out of the sand by other predators. It’s estimated only one hatchling out of a thousand will survive to adulthood.
Many of the turtles brought to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center come from the nuclear power plant near my parents’ condo. The power plant has a pipe that goes from the ocean into a lagoon, required by law for cooling purposes. Sea turtles get sucked into the pipe and are rescued by a volunteer group at the power plant, where a marine biologist is on staff.
If the sea turtle is healthy, it’s tagged and released into the Atlantic, but sick and injured turtles are taken to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. A net to prevent the turtles from entering the pipe isn’t possible because the turtles would get caught in it. Annually, 600-900 turtles are taken from the lagoon.
Might Benefit Sea Turtle Research
We learned it’s not necessarily a bad thing for the turtles to end up at the power plant — sick turtles can be attended to, their lives saved in some instances. Sometimes the tagged turtles are repeat visitors and additional data about them can be recorded — this is especially helpful in regard to male sea turtles who don’t come to shore like the females do to nest.
The two volunteers we spoke with, Renee and Randy, provided information for this column and also told us about the recovering sea turtles in the tanks. It was a fascinating visit, and we’ll return again. Perhaps we’ll also get lucky some other summer day in the future —like our son-in-law Jeff and daughter Kate on a trip to the island a few years ago, when they helped a baby turtle get out to sea with a gentle push through the surf.
To learn more about the Loggerhead Marinelife Center go to www.marinelife.org.