For almost 20 years, Will and Sally Collins patrolled Casey Key, marking and protecting sea turtle nests. They walked the shores every day from mid-May through November, looking for "crawls," the telltale tracks of a turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs.
"In the old days, we'd verify it ourselves, dig down and touch the eggs," says Will, a retired airline pilot who's now 82. Today, the volunteer "turtle walkers" call Mote Marine Laboratory when they find a potential nest. Mote's Paula Clark says Will has an uncanny sense for locating nests. ("It jumps out and hits you," he says.)
The couple estimates they've seen some 63,000 baby turtles hatch. Sally, 74, says Mote often asks them to keep trapped hatchlings in their home for a day, until they can be released safely at night. "They run around [in buckets or boxes] and make some noise, but it's all right," she says.
"The hatch is always a tremendous thrill," says Will. "They all go running down to the beach, a stampede of baby turtles, gasping in air and filling their sacs-that gives them buoyancy for their first swim. It just gives you a pleasant feeling."