It doesn’t help the turtles of Jekyll island that the highest point—and thus prime nesting ground—is atop a high-traffic causeway. Just ask Ray Emerson, a volunteer at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and guardian angel to the hundreds of nesting terrapins on the island. Since 2012, Ray’s been helping prevent any car-on-turtle accidents, as well as incubate the offspring of the critters that aren’t so lucky.
On his love for all things that crawl, slither and leap: “I’ve been passionate about animals for as long as I can remember. I was always the kid who caught turtles, snakes and frogs on my parents’ patio. I’d keep them a while, then release them. So it wasn’t a surprise that I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Conservation.”
On his work at the Center: “I work most closely with the diamondback terrapin, the only marsh turtle in the world. The females leave the marsh during nesting season to lay eggs, often venturing onto the causeway. Unfortunately, this means many are hit by cars. We retrieve the eggs from those that are killed in order to incubate, hatch and rehabilitate them at the Center.”
On his favorite moments as a volunteer: “The memory of shaking like a leaf the first time I handled a sea turtle; when I first touched the nose of a loggerhead—it felt just like a puppy’s; and seeing my first nesting sea turtle while leading a tour on our beach at night.”
On what else keeps him coming back: “Everyone I work with—the staff, other volunteers and Americorp members—are all dedicated, concerned and passionate individuals. It’s one phenomenal team. On a more personal note, I love to make a difference in the lives of the animals I work with every day. The hardships faced by these creatures are due primarily to the activities of humans, and it’s our responsibility to right these wrongs in any way possible.”
On his advice for those who want to make a difference: “Be good stewards of the environment. And if you have the chance, volunteer at your local ASPCA or any other place you can help animals in need. Who knows, it could change your life—it did mine.”