Save the Sea Turtles … for Pete’s sake.

Pete, Avery, Cardin & Beth McKenna

One year ago today, my friend Pete McKenna died. He was a beautiful man—gentle, kind, and madly in love with his wife Beth and two lovely daughters, Cardin and Avery. Pete had red hair, an athlete’s lean body, and a smile that split open like the sunshine beaming through clouds. Probably his favorite place on earth was Ocracoke Island, where we met the family and vacationed with them over the years. Pete loved the sky, the sea, and the sand but most of all, he loved the sea turtles.

A rare leatherback turtle hatchling.

He used to get up at dawn and walk the beach in its most remote stretches, looking for their nests. We went on several midnight hatch watches with Pete & Beth, bundled up in blankets on the beach under a million stars, waiting for the babies to poke their way out of their shells and scamper into the sea – but we never saw any.

Egg-nesting area.(Photo Katherine Wolkoff for the NYTimes)

Since Pete died a year ago, he missed the Gulf oil spill – which would have driven him crazy. He’d be worried to death about all the loggerheads coming ashore in Alabama and Florida, hopefully laying their eggs. But he would have loved the story of the 300 turtle people from the all-volunteer Alabama group, Share the Beach. Since 2001, these quiet zealots have been walking the 47 miles of sugar-white sand beaches every day of nesting season to look for nests and protect them. Over the years, they’ve helped about 80,000 endangered loggerhead babies make it to the Gulf…but this year the U.S. wildlife agencies asked them to do a different job.

Handmade trenches make it easier for loggerhead babies to make it to the ocean. (Wolkoff photo)

In the wake of the oil spill that would mean the loggerhead babies would be literally swimming to their deaths, wildlife groups decided to evacuate the eggs. So from June 25 until August 18, these fanatically dedicated folks dug up and tenderly, gingerly, transferred 25,000 sea turtle eggs from the Gulf Coast to the east coast of Florida. It was a massive operation, funded by BP with shipping donated by FedEx, and you can read all about it in this amazing New York Times article.

Pete would have loved this rescue operation, but he would have been worried that the babies, who swim out to rest on mats of sargassum seaweed for a couple of years of floating and eating over thousands of miles of the Atlantic, wouldn’t be able to find their way back home to nest again in Alabama. That would have bothered him a lot. I wish we could have talked about that. I wish Pete had known how many people loved him and would have walked miles to look after him if they’d known he was in trouble. I wish he could have found his way home.

My $100 today goes to Share the Beach in honor of my beloved turtle-and-life loving friend, Pete McKenna. To join me in adopting a nest, click here!