During the summer, Donna Shaver often sleeps on the job — so she can nurture the thousands of incubating sea turtle eggs in her care.
Shaver, who leads the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore, beds down in a small room near the incubation facility so she can make frequent visits to the two warm, dark incubation rooms every night during the May through August hatching season.
Wearing a headlamp and loose-fitting athletic clothes, she spritzes water on crates of turtle eggs, aims fans at the eggs nearing the end of their incubation period, monitors temperatures and checks to see if any eggs are close to hatching.
“Sometimes I’m on my feet through the whole night,” she said.
But Shaver is not complaining. This is her favorite time of the year.
Over the course of a decade beginning in 1978, more than 22,000 eggs were collected from Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, the turtles’ main nesting ground, and transported to Texas for incubation. Once hatched, turtles were placed on the beach to amble into the surf, with the hope that they would “imprint,” or gain a lasting impression in order to one day return on their own.
When she started at the national seashore, she was a 20-year-old undergraduate at Cornell University with a summer Student Conservation Association internship. She had grown up not far from Cornell in Syracuse, New York, and was eager to work with at-risk species.
“I fell in love with the work and South Texas,” said Shaver, who is now 57. “I decided this is what I wanted to do. This conservation work matters because this species has been around for millions of years. It almost went extinct within a blink of an eye due to human activities. It’s a magnificent, majestic species and it’s important to have it in our natural heritage for future generations to be able to enjoy.”