Transcript from Southern Circuit.

Following is a transcript of Southern Circuit, a public TV show highlighting interesting and notable people around the State of Florida. This show aired in 1984 and featured an interview with Eleanor Fletcher and myself about our work with sea turtles. It was the first TV interview I ever did.

These things you can’t see anywhere in the world! Except on Juno Beach. And see them come up out of the sand. Nobody’s done it before except Fletcher.

For millions of years, loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles have been crawling up on the sands of Juno Beach to nest. Those that have come and gone over the past 15 years have been protected by Eleanor Fletcher, a 67-year-old self-taught naturalist, affectionately known as the Turtle Lady of Juno Beach.

I guess I’m an oddball. Or a maverick. And I always done something different or in a different way than anybody else. I detest or I am bored with rote. I don’t want to wash every Monday or iron every Tuesday. Or do the dishes some nights after dinner. The heck with it! If there’s something more interesting, the dishes can be done by any idiot in the morning or midnight, who cares?

[Cut to Fletcher standing in front of a group of Girl Scouts outside the hotel where she is setting up her new museum. She is holding an empty Styrofoam cooler she will use for storing turtle eggs until they hatch.]

And this is my turtle jacket. And my permit you know. And we’re going down to the beach and we’re going to box one nest. We’re going to put the eggs in here so when they hatch we can see them. Just follow me because our nest is up there.

[Cut to Fletcher being interviewed.]

I once heard a sermon by a minister and he said, “Forever be childlike.” Not childish. Forever be childlike and that is forever be asking the question “Why?” You think about that. Why does this happen? Why does this happen? And if you live, always trying to find the answer to the question “Why?”, you’ll keep going forever.

[Cut to Fletcher sitting beside a turtle nest. As she speaks she is digging into the sand to retrieve the unhatched eggs.]

The tide gets higher every month on the full moon until September, and that’s why we have hurricanes and the water reaches way, way up, right? So this has to be moved because in two months the salt water will come up just through the sand, it doesn’t even have to wash out the eggs, and it kills all life in the eggs. The salt water inside the eggs.
On my mile, the mile south of the pier, I have about 350 completed nests from the three kinds of turtles. And you know, the loggerheads lay twice as fast, lots as anything else. And that doesn’t mean that many turtles because the loggerheads come out four times, and the greens twice and the leatherbacks twice. There’s a little algebra there somewhere and I haven’t figured it out yet.

[Mrs. Fletcher is now holding a turtle egg.]

We keep this little white spot on top so that the turtle will grow. If we tipped it, it would be crippled in some way, and a crippled turtle is never born. Because it can’t take care of itself. It can be minus an arm or a leg, it can have a crooked back but it must eat, be able to crawl over the sand and it must be able to swim. And if it can’t, somebody up there doesn’t give it the cutting tooth to break the shell. Isn’t that marvelous? It’s all taken care of by nature. See these white spots? This nest is over 24 hours old.

I usually go down for a walk along the beach with my family and sometimes we see her and we talk to her. But one day one of my dad’s friends announced that Mrs. Fletcher needed help with the museum, and I volunteered for that.

[Cut to Fletcher and her volunteer, both looking at some captive baby turtles swimming in an aquarium.]

Let’s see how they look.

The Children’s Museum of Juno Beach is expected to open next spring. This former motel located on State Road A1A will be refurbished to be used by the Turtle Lady as a natural science museum at the side of the sea turtles which lay their eggs across the road on the town’s beach.

FLETCHER, addressing Girl Scouts:
And the turtles are so much like us. You know, they have arms, legs, hands, a heart. And they are cold-blooded and we’re warm-blooded. But they lay an egg, like we start from. There’s so much about a turtle that is so much like us.

[Cut to Fletcher being interviewed.]

From through this turtle business or turtle work, you appreciate the forces of nature. And I don’t mean, they aren’t hidden. In the sea and the land and the sky, and it weren’t for the sun, or the water, and the land, places somewhere, there would be no life at all.

I would love to have a copy of this show on video. I was lucky enough to save a copy of the audio before the video tape broke. I’ll have to get in touch with Florida Public Broadcasting to see if I can get another copy.

Remembering the Turtle Lady.

One of the people who gave me the deepest appreciation for the sea was Eleanor Fletcher, better known as the Turtle Lady of Juno Beach. I first met her when I was walking along the beach with my family where I became fast friends with her. When I later found out she needed help setting up a museum for her collection, I volunteered to help her out. It was the beginning of a remarkable journey that taught me much about sea turtles, ocean life and the need to preserve it for future generations. The highlight of this journey was my getting interviewed for a TV show that highlighted interesting people around Florida. Mrs. Fletcher was certainly one of them.
Mrs. Fletcher passed away March 3 at age 92. I am saddened to have lost such a wonderful friend.

The Turtle Lady of Juno Beach.

The one person who gave me the greatest appreciation for undersea life was Eleanor Fletcher, affectionately known as “The Turtle Lady” because of her extensive work in saving sea turtles. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her.
I first met Mrs. Fletcher when I was a kid while growing up in Juno Beach. One of the main events in town was going to the beach and watching her dig up a sea turtle nest and releasing the baby turtles. The sight of dozens and dozens of tiny turtles scurrying along the sand to the sea was unforgettable.
All she did was protect sea turtles. Part of her job would be to walk along the beach and mark sea turtle nests with the date the eggs were laid. That way she would know when the eggs hatch and be there to dig up the nest and help release the baby turtles. There were plenty of times when she saved entire turtle nests by digging up the eggs and carefully storing them in a Styrofoam cooler until they hatched.
To help educate the public about the sea turtles, she set up a children’s museum at her home that was decorated with specimens of her work. Among the more interesting specimens in her collection were preserved unborn turtles with interesting deformities, such as one with two heads and another one with one eye.
Later, she planned on moving the museum to an abandoned motel up the road along the town’s beach. You could park in the parking lot and then walk through an underground tunnel that takes you right to the beach. A perfect spot for a museum.
It was at this point that I started working with her more and more frequently, from helping her taking care of some captive sea turtles and marking turtle nests, to helping her relocate her collection to the new museum. The more I worked with her, the more she taught me about sea turtles and other forms of marine life, effectively helping me develop an appreciation of life under the sea. I don’t think I could develop this appreciation in any class at school.
Today, the museum is still going strong, continuing to protect sea turtles and to educate visitors so that they too can help. Next time you’re passing through the Palm Beaches, be sure to stop by and visit. Your trip to Florida will not be complete without it.
Click here to visit the museum’s web site.

This picture of me was taken by Mrs. Fletcher on February 4, 1984. I am holding a green sea turtle in my left hand and a loggerhead in my right. In front of me is a gopher turtle in its pen.