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On the Tracks of Turtles

Marjorie Putnam web
Marjorie Costner Putnam '61
According to Marjorie Costner Putnam ’61, much can be learned about a person’s character by how he or she treats the environment.

“Every living creature has just as much of a right to live as humans do,” she said. And Putnam practices what she preaches in that statement.

“In 1991, I heard someone talk about the fragility of sea turtles as they make their way from their shore-bound nest to the surf,” she recalls. “Their lives seem to dangle on the edge of existence with each tiny obstacle—even a footprint—between them and their oceanic home.”

After hearing the account, Marjorie, who with her husband had built a house on Sunset Beach, NC, joined a turtle rescue group that at that time had only been in existence for a couple of years. “We would walk along the beach during the evenings and look for nests made by the mother turtles,” she explains. “The turtle crawls are fairly easy to notice once you know what to look for. Their tracks resemble those made by a lawn mower as if it were coming from the ocean onto shore, and look like a ‘V’ pointing towards land.”

 Marjorie clearly recalls the moment her fascination with the turtle program blossomed.  “Baby loggerhead turtles seem to always know what to do once they reach the ocean waters; the trouble is getting there. A footprint can give them serious problems. And when they are hit by that first wave, they are invariably flipped over. But they learn to adjust, and as they continue to crawl, using their flippers, you can see them getting stronger and stronger. I can clearly remember standing waist deep in the ocean surf, shining a flashlight into the water and seeing fifty tiny turtles swimming around; I was immediately hooked, especially when you consider that only one in a thousand seas turtles survives to adulthood.”

Turtle Season
Turtle egg laying season lasts from May to September, and during that time Marjorie and her fellow group members walk the breadth of the three-mile long island in search of turtle tracks and nests. “Mature turtles feed on jelly fish, so if we see a lot of jelly fish we know it’s going to be an early season for turtle nesting. A big problem often comes in the form of plastic bags thrown into the ocean by people; the turtles will sometimes mistake the bags for jellyfish and attempt to eat them.

How to Help
1. Turn out lights visible from the beach. The hatchlings use light and reflections from the moon to find their way to the water at night, and artificial light can distract them.

2. Clean up trash you see on the beach. Sea turtles can become tangled in plastic and trash both on the shore and in the water, which can result in injury or death.

3. Be aware of sea turtle nesting areas and avoid nesting and hatching turtles. No doubt about it, sea turtles are cute and it’s tempting to touch them but to do so causes more harm that you know.

4. Don’t greet the turtle. If you see a turtle coming out of the ocean, the best thing for you to do is stop. Anything can spook her and since she will only come out of the water when she is ready to lay her eggs, she may turn around and lay them in the water if something startles her.