By Delia Berlin
Every two weeks or so I drive to NYC to visit my daughter and her family. On those occasions, I usually listen to Connecticut Public Radio. If I find the programming interesting, I can get decent reception along most of the drive on three different stations. On my last trip, I caught a fascinating portion of “Where We Live,” centered around saving turtles.
I had a sweet pet turtle in my childhood. I have heard that I selected it from a large group of them at a pet store in Buenos Aires when I was two years old. Apparently that particular turtle was from a different species, belonged to the store owner and was not for sale. But a two-year-old knows how to tantrum, and it produced results. That turtle roamed our patio during the warm parts of the year and retired to hibernate under furniture in winter. When my family left Argentina, the turtle stayed with relatives who had an enclosed garden and after many years abroad I lost track of its situation.
At one point in my childhood, my family also had a water tank with a couple of red-eared sliders, but I do not recall the end of that story. And decades later, my husband participated as a citizen scientist in projects related to marine turtle conservation. So, turtles were not complete strangers to me. I thought I knew quite a few things about them, but this radio program opened my eyes to much more.
While the guests related several amazing facts about turtles, what captivated me was their passion as they talked about them. They almost sounded like me when I discuss parrots. My thoughts dwelled more on that passion than any actual turtle-related information. But some of the turtle factoids mentioned were so fantastic that I must share them.
The radio guests marveled at the incredible resilience of turtles. They cited many stories about turtles that survived devastating injuries and later regained full function, getting well enough to be reintroduced to the wild. Some of these cases required significant veterinary work and ingenuity. For example, one turtle with a fractured jaw that had been re-set kept dislocating it by wobbling (due to other injuries) and rolling over. To prevent this turtle from constantly rolling over, the vet stuck it snugly inside a plastic jug with a handle, head sticking out. By positioning the handle over the tallest point of the turtle, the jug acted as a stabilizer, bringing the turtle back on its feet each time it was about to roll over. The turtle “wore” the plastic jug until its jaw healed and recovered fully.
Another turtle, a baby near the size of a quarter, was found seemingly dead. But the passion of these turtle advocates goes well beyond talk. One of them actually performed CPR on this tiny tot for 35 minutes. And guess what? The turtle lived!
Now, if you are curious about turtle CPR, you will be interested to hear that it is not at all like human CPR. Fortunately, no chest compressions or mouth-to-mouth breathing are involved. If by chance you find a turtle in cardiac arrest, you should take hold of its legs and start crossing and uncrossing them rhythmically to pump oxygen into its lungs. The radio guests did not explain how to take a turtle’s pulse, but based on their described successes, I think one should immediately start the turtle CPR protocol on any turtle that looks dead, as long as it does not smell, and proceed until there are clear signs of life or exhaustion, whichever comes first.
The radio program covered turtles of all kinds, aquatic and terrestrial. One segment was about a very endangered migratory species of marine turtle. As we all well know, the oceans are warming. The Gulf of Maine, where these turtles find themselves at times, is warming much faster than any other part of the Atlantic Ocean. This is delaying the start of the migration of these turtles. When they finally leave for warmer waters they encounter, instead, colder waters. Being cold-blooded animals, they become hypothermic and drowsy, unable to swim or even to come up to the surface for air. Volunteers routinely patrol these Maine beaches after storms, rescuing any turtles that get washed ashore and taking them to warming facilities to be revived. Some of these turtles are then transported more than ten miles on sleds to be released safely.
Many more interesting facts were uncovered during this program, helping my ride to the city feel shorter than usual. By the time it ended, my mind drifted to the sense of commitment and joy that these passionate speakers had conveyed. In these apocalyptic times of cruel wars, cataclysms and extinctions, life manages to continue to offer seemingly endless opportunities to find wonder and purpose if we seek them.
As we start a new year, we can search within ourselves for hidden pockets of refuge from all the horrors around us. Hopefully, we will still find many. They may be parrots or turtles, plants, constellations, or books. We may encounter them walking outdoors, cooking dinner, or creating projects with others. And if we are fortunate enough to get inspired, feel wonder, and find purpose, let us recognize it, embrace it, and savor it with gratitude.