By Barbara Burgess for The Island Connection
“The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
Song of Solomon 2:12 King James Bible
Beautsie Zahrn is well known on Seabrook Island for her commitment to the care of the turtles that occupy our beaches. She has been the head of Turtle Patrol for many years now, but was involved in it long before she became one of the main dispatchers. Turtle Patrol now has 147 members, all of whom are assigned specific zones on specific days. That makes it one of the larger volunteer organizations in Seabrook. They are a group of dedicated people. Beautsie got into liking turtles very early in her life.
Her family used to own a house on Hilton Head, and lacking anything to do, she and her brother started watching the turtle activity on the island. When she came to Seabrook in 1993, she immediately volunteered for Turtle Patrol. She met Fred Zahrn here in Seabrook in 1996; they were married in 1997. Fred took on her interest in turtles and at first they used to perform all the tasks related to turtles themselves. But the inventory started growing. She had 7 nests the first year she walked; now they average 60 nests a year.
The turtle activities start early in the year. There is an organizational meeting in late April to get volunteers organized for the year and fill out the necessary forms required. The state of South Carolina requires anyone having anything to do with turtles to have an annually renewed permit from the Department of Natural Resources. Beautsie is the permit holder for Seabrook Island beaches so all volunteers work under her permit. Turtle Patrol volunteers start their days early. Most get out around 6:15 a.m., and all should be out by 7 a.m.
The season starts on May 1st and ends October 1st. Roles change as the season progresses. First come the walkers early in the season who check for crawls from the mothers.
Beautsie says these early crawls look like a Mack truck has come out of the ocean as it makes an impression about 3 feet wide. The turtle mother is making a hole in the sand to drop her egg. The walker then calls Beautsie who is the First Dispatcher for 4 days of the week. Beautsie calls the first responder who goes to the area with a probe stick. The nest is then assigned a number. The eggs are only moved if there is a high tide and the babies would drown, or if it’s in the way of a walkway, in which case the nest is marked and surrounded by tape, so people have to walk around it. This is indeed compassionate care of the turtles. They lost 3 nests this year because of rain and a rising water table. It was a devastating blow to the volunteers.
There are four turtle patrol zones on the Seabrook beach that need to be patrolled. They are: Pelican Watch Beach to Privateer Creek, boardwalk 9 on Pelican Beach to boardwalk 7, boardwalk 7 to North Beach boardwalk 1, and North Beach boardwalk 1 to the new cut on the Kiawah River. Each zone is assigned turtle patrol members who will walk the zone on a specific day.
Beautsie has a computerized list of all of the members who walk, what day they walk, as well as their phone and cell numbers and email addresses. Getting this list organized as to who wants to walk when, with all of its related information, is a job in itself.
For the four mornings she is the main dispatcher, her day starts very early. Beautsie receives calls from the volunteers as to what activity they have spotted that morning. All of this information goes into a database and the information is sent to SeaTurtle.org, which is automatically forwarded to the Department of Natural History. All of this record keeping is required by the permit she holds from the state.
As the summer progresses, activities change. By mid-July, the volunteers have started looking for baby tracks. By early August, the mothers have left and the Turtle Patrol is left to guard the nests of the hatching babies. In August, they watch the nests to see if the eggs have “boiled” or hatched. This happens at night when the temperature of the sand has cooled down. Beautsie says this is quite a sight to see.
From mid July to the first of October Turtle Patrol continues to keep an eye on the nests. They now have 18 nests on the beach they are still watching. When they see evidence of a nest boiling, an inventory is scheduled for 3 days later. This allows the hatchlings to hatch naturally. If there are live hatchlings left in the nest at the inventory, they will be helped out, but they must still have their walk to the water. They advertise the inventory on Turtle News and people come to watch it happening. At this point, Turtle Patrol members educate the public on how the turtle process works.
Beautsie feels that the tasks they do to save the baby turtles and allow them to hatch is rewarding because you are doing something to save a “threatened” species.
Turtles are a “threatened” species, not endangered. Beautsie likes to think that the “moms” she is seeing today were once the baby turtles she helped come into this world safely. She feels that turtles have an aura about them; you want to help them.
She has had a few close calls. She got bitten by a turtle once and but for the fact she was wearing gloves, she might have lost a finger. She notes that turtles are not only threatened by people, but animals as well. Last year there were coyotes on the beach; this year it’s possums.
But all of the hours of work, all the filing of papers, all the work patrolling the beach is worth it to Beautsie, who points with pride, at the turtle charm she has worn around her neck for years, long before she got involved with Seabrook turtle patrol. This is something that was meant to be. This is a calling that Beautsie has that she is happy to perform.
She has added so much to our wonderful island by what she does for the turtles. Turtle people are special people; they have a passion for what they do. Beautsie surely is the Voice of the Turtle here on Seabrook.