For those of us who have lived in more northern areas, October marks the beginning of “leaf peeping” season. For Seabrookers, October is important for a different reason, for it marks the end of turtle season. This year it also marks the end of the tenure of a remarkable woman who has been described previously as “the voice of the turtles.” After 24 years of service, Beautsie Zahrn is retiring from her official role with the Turtle Patrol.
On October 3, more than 90 people filled Live Oak Hall at the Lake House to honor Beautsie with a potluck supper. Mayor Ron Ciancio presented Beautsie with an official proclamation from the Town of Seabrook Island declaring October 3, 2017, as “Beautsie Zahrn Day.” Then a heartfelt tribute was delivered to Beautsie detailing her 24 years of dedicated service to the turtles.
Take a moment to look back over the years and to learn about Beautsie as we acknowledge her outstanding contribution not only to the turtles but also to the legacy of Seabrook Island. Since moving to Seabrook in 1993, Beautsie Zahrn has been committed to the care of the turtles who nest on our shores each year between May and October. She was one of seven people in the first patrol who walked the beach daily in the 1990s, long before the current well-organized and well-defined Turtle Patrol was formed. Turtle Patrol has grown from those seven hardy folks who patrolled the beach every single day, to the more than 150 volunteers today who are scheduled to work specific days and perform specific tasks.
Beautsie’s interest in turtles dates back to her teenage days in the early 1960s at her family home in Hilton Head. Back then, there were not many things to do so she and her brother would drive his Jeep on the beach in search of turtles. From that, a lifelong interest developed, but there were important years in between her first encounters with the turtles and her work on Seabrook.
After graduating from college, Beautsie first worked for Wachovia Bank, then married and moved to California. They returned to Charlotte, NC, in 1979 to work for a family screen printing business. In 1982, Beautsie suffered a stroke, which left her paralyzed on her right side and aphasic, which significantly impacted her ability to use numbers. She spent six weeks in a rehabilitation facility, determined to improve so that she would walk out of that facility on her own and she did. She continued to exercise physically by walking through the mall with her dad and mentally by painstakingly practicing numbers. She also spent another ten years doing physical therapy as an out-patient. Her marriage ended in 1986 and she went to work at E.F. Hutton as a stockbroker. These experiences stoked Beautsie’s determination to “keep on going forward.”
After a successful stint as a salesperson for a janitorial supply company where she honed her skills of persuasion, Beautsie decided to try retirement and moved to Seabrook Island in 1993. There she met Shirley Tilley on the beach and agreed to help revive the Turtle Patrol, which was floundering. She recruited the first seven walkers in those days before email by simply walking the beach, approaching people, and persuading them to get involved.
Beautsie has played a central role in the development and evolution of the organization of the Turtle Patrol. When initially Beautsie and a few volunteers did all of the tasks, now there is a clear division of labor for the many volunteers. Walkers find turtle tracks and inform the dispatcher; the dispatcher calls in this information to the probers; and the probers are activated to locate the nest and move it, if necessary. This allows for many people to work together and enjoy a sense of ownership, connection, and responsibility for the turtles. Beautsie has been directly involved in all aspects of managing the Turtle Patrol including handling the many details of the organizational meeting held each spring, creating schedules for the volunteers, responding to morning calls from the walkers, managing the equipment, reporting data about the turtles to the Division of Natural Resources, and hosting beginning and end of the season social gatherings for the volunteers. Perhaps her favorite job is selecting the annual color for the t-shirts the volunteers wear. Beautsie came up with the idea for the t-shirts in 1995 simply because she wanted to be able to easily spot her volunteers on the beach. Now, these t-shirts are a proudly prized item for the volunteers. Beautsie has a complete collection of the t-shirts and plans to have them made into a quilt as a cherished memento.
An important partner in Beautsie’s work is her husband, Fred Zahrn. They met in 1996 at an event at the club and married six months after their first date. Fred is quick to clarify that he didn’t volunteer to be on the Turtle Patrol; instead, he married into it. Together they formed a strong partnership. The tools of the Turtle Patrol include trowels, probe sticks, buckets, screens, signs, hammers, flags, and markers. For years, Beautsie and Fred would walk these supplies to wherever they were needed on the beach. Finally, in 2009 Fred bought a four-wheel truck for them to use for Turtle Patrol tasks, which made their work easier. Beautsie continued to lend their truck to the Turtle Patrol until 2014 when the POA made a truck available for their use. At the age of 90, Fred retired from Turtle Patrol and now at the age of 96 resides at Dayspring Assisted Living, where Beautsie visits him every day, except Wednesday when she goes to her Pilates class.
Reflecting on her 23 years, Beautsie is proud of all that has been accomplished and firmly believes, based on the statistics, that the Turtle Patrol has made a difference for the turtle population. In her first year, there was a total of 14 turtle nests and now there is an average of 60 nests per year, with a total of 736 nests between 2001 and 2016. The number of volunteers has increased over the years and so has community-wide interest in and knowledge of the turtles. A very important outcome of the work of the Turtle Patrol is the education it provides to residents and visitors to Seabrook. As many as 100 people will gather around a nest at inventory time to learn about the nesting process and watch these wonderful little creatures make their way into the sea.
Speaking about leaving Turtle Patrol, Beautsie believes it is time for fresh faces and new ideas to emerge, explaining, “The universe tells me when it’s time to make a change; time to move on. Something else will come forward for me. I just don’t know what it is yet.” An optimistic, positive person by nature, Beautsie shared what she has learned from the turtles: “Keep on going. If they can, we can too.”
Finally, Beautsie admitted, “I’m going to miss the turtles, but I’m going to be able to sleep in now!” We thank Beautsie and Fred for their years of dedicated service not only to the turtles but for adding to the quality of life here on Seabrook Island.