Volunteer Spotlight: Elaine and Dave Thornton
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2023 STPS Turtle Talk Newsletter distributed in October 2023.
Meet Elaine and Dave Thornton
Written by Elaine Thornton/Edited by Susan Randolph
If you ask Dave and Elaine Thornton what they love most about STPS, their immediate answer is “Night Walks!” Each time they watch a nesting sea turtle drop her eggs under a starry sky is as thrilling as the first time. Plus, they really enjoy meeting guests from all over the U.S. and the world. Having grown up in the Great Lakes region, lived in the Midwest and South, and even in Switzerland, they can relate to everyone. It’s no surprise they’re such great ambassadors for sea turtles.
Elaine and Dave first met in 1959 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After dating for eight years and graduating from Western Michigan University, they got married. Dave worked as a paper chemical engineering research and development specialist. Elaine was a mathematics professor, community volunteer, nationally accredited flower show master, and home-maker. They raised two children, Mark and Jennifer. Throughout their 60 plus years together, they have always been passionate about protecting our environment and teaching others to appreciate all it has to offer.
So, what brought them to Florida? When Dave retired, he vowed never to shovel snow again. Also, they wanted to live by the water, so they decided to move to Indialantic. During the closing on their condo in 2018, they were delighted to learn that Brevard County is a key nesting area for loggerhead and green sea turtles. At the time, their only “wild encounter” with sea turtles was while on vacation in the Carolinas where they watched a nest evaluation and got to see little loggerhead hatchlings emerge into the world. Eager to learn more about sea turtles, they joined STPS just a few months after they moved to the Sunshine State.
Elaine and Dave are active in many STPS programs. Check out everything they do below.
- Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program (STERP) – Dave and Elaine took STERP training shortly after joining STPS. During STERP events, they help rescue post-hatchings washed ashore by storms. Whenever they meet beachgoers, they always advise them never to put any stranded hatchlings into the ocean because they will most likely drown due to exhaustion. Instead, call the STPS hotline.
- Nest Surveys – They’ve observed morning nest surveys and nest evaluations. Watching the STPS nest survey team collect nest data for the Florida’s FWC makes it easier to teach others about everything STPS does to help protect sea turtles.
- Night Walks – Both took night walk training in early 2019, and just this year, Dave became a permitted member of the team. So, while Elaine gives the presentation to the guests, Dave helps scout the beach for a nesting loggerhead. They estimate that they do about ten walks each year. During the presentation, if the weather is bad or no turtles are nesting, Elaine keeps the guests engaged by teaching them what they can do to help sea turtles. Discussing how nesting turtles can be disoriented by lights or be blocked by beach furniture helps the public understand how their actions can have an impact on sea turtles.
- Stranding & Salvage – Dave was added to the Stranding & Salvage permit in 2022 and aided over 46 sea turtles that year. Also, during salvage operations, he has helped move large, deceased turtles. Maneuvering the heavy animals can be quite challenging at times.
- Sea Turtle Releases – Like the public, Elaine and Dave are always thrilled to see a sea turtle return to the ocean. Because these events can attract a lot of people, they help out by holding the rope barrier which contains the crowd. Of course, they enjoy interacting with everyone, answering questions, and teaching them ways to help like picking up litter, limiting the use of plastic, and being careful when fishing.
- Education – In addition to doing Turtle 101 talks, Elaine gives presentations to various groups who want to learn more about sea turtles. She’s always amazed that even people who have lived in Brevard for a long time can be completely unaware of the need to protect of our turtles.
- Turtle House Guide – Elaine enjoyed becoming a Turtle House Guide this year. Working at the newly remodeled Education Center, she loves interacting with customers who may have seen a turtle track or want to learn how a sea turtle’s countershading camouflage keeps them safe from predators.
- Mentoring New Members – When some new members wanted to learn about what STPS volunteers do and how they can help, Dave and Elaine gave them some ideas on ways they could contribute.
- Lending a Helping Hand – Whether it’s moving supplies to the Brevard Zoo Sea Turtle Healing Center or helping STPS Co-Chair Roger Pszonowsky with the installation of new sea turtle information signs at Nance Park, they are always willing to help out whenever needed.
Part of Everyday Life
Helping sea turtles is now part of their daily routine. Because they live right on the beach, Elaine and Dave turn all their beach walks into beach cleanups and donate the beach toys they find to local nursery schools. They also take time to educate all the tourists they meet about sea turtles. In fact, they frequent Indialantic’s shores so often that they’ve be-come friends with all the UCF researchers conducting beach surveys there.