Sunrise is still sound asleep. We drive through the dark with lights on. During the day US 41 in Sarasota, also known as Tamiami Trail, will turn into a bumper-to -bumper traffic disaster. Before dawn it is empty except for us.
We navigate over the John Ringing Bridge and onto Longboat Key, turning into a condo complex on the beach.
The guard raises the gate. She recognizes the orange car plus the Mote Turtle Patrol Parking Pass clearly displayed on the dashboard.
Slinging on backpacks full of supplies and carrying buckets we head onto the beach, walking down to the jetty then turning north for a mile, checking for new turtle tracks and looking at every marked nest.
Volunteer to Help Sea Turtles
This morning, sadly, we find a loggerhead turtle nest that has been dug up. Predator unknown. Dead baby turtles litter the sand. There is nothing we can do except call it in. Permitted persons will clear the nest later. We’re non-permitted volunteers. Our job is to walk, observe, record then call in the findings.
Further on there is a hatch and lots of baby turtle tracks leading down to the water. Success. The little ones made it to the Gulf of Mexico. Their life journey begins. No wonder sea turtles make so many nests in hopes the odds will work for them.
For you, whether a visitor, winter resident or year round live in Florida, the odds for volunteering are excellent – from drop in right now with no training (think food pantries and soup kitchens) to one day workshops and then – the T-shirt is yours. Be inside or outside, the choice of venue determines the climate.
Volunteering adds a satisfying dimension to living here, winter visiting or a short term vacation.
Mote Marine Turtle Patrols, for example, have designated stretches of beach to patrol seven days a week. There are a few catches to this kind of commitment. You must live in Sarasota or Manatee County from May through October – that is turtle season and you must commit to walk one day a week at least. Training is a two-hour mandatory class and you get a Mote T-shirt to wear on patrol days.
Walking the beach as the sun rises, birds hovering on the shoreline, occasional dolphins leaping after bait fish, sometimes even a moon set as the sun rises – ah, this is a tough job but someone has to be out there with the morning beauty – might as well be you! And you are helping to save sea turtles.
All Kinds of Ways to Volunteer
Other opportunities are abundant. Winter residents Bonnie and Bill Sexton arrive in Sarasota every fall open up their house and eagerly begin their winter routine of volunteering, including days at Selby Botanical Gardens and Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota.
“Life needs stimulation,” said Bonnie. And part of that is learning new things in the training. “Training at Selby Gardens is constant and on going and fun! Lectures are once a month, but informal sessions with the botanist, horticulturalist, etc. are often.”
Plus there are perks to being a volunteer – after 25 hours of volunteering admission to Selby is free. For Turtle Patrol volunteers after a probationary period they get a badge that gets them and three other people into the Mote Aquarium for free.
Training at the hospital consisted of “shadowing” another volunteer. There is also a teen volunteer program. More than 80 volunteer services help support this hospital, similar programs exist in many other hospitals.
Vacations can even be planned around volunteering. Disney has the Sports Enthusiasts volunteer program at Walt Disney World Resort (email: email@example.com) and the runDisney Volunteer Program at Disneyland Resort (E mail: DLrunDisney.Volunteers@disneysports.com.
– you can volunteer for designated charities. All kinds of roles in an event and you do not have to be a runner or athlete.
Select an event from a list of events like the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon then tailor your time and talent.
Florida State Parks have a total of 171 parks and trails pus 30 historic sites, archaeological sites and museums. Individual, group and youth volunteers are all welcome.
For example, individual volunteers may greet visitors, help with special events, join rangers in removing exotic plants or help maintain a beach’s beauty. There is a nifty form to fill out – it has places for you to check the months and times you are available and how many hours you’d like to work. You can even take the form to the park of your choice.
Fall is on the way. Time for a change – volunteer!
JUST FOR FUN
When my granddaughter Madison was going on a trip to Hawaii recently her mom said she could take one book – and she chose my book “Mary Margaret Manatee: the Adventures of a young Florida manatee” Wahoo! Here she is in Hawaii, on the left, snuggled up with Mary Margaret, another granddaughter Finn on the right and Finn’s school friend Elsa. You too can have Mary Margaret in your life – check out this link to Amazon.
More to Explore