Social media connects mourning family with sea turtle nest

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The plaque commemorates a sea turtle nest adopted by the Calabrese family of Kentucky to memorialize their son, Lincoln, who died in 2016. People stepped up on social media and honored the Calabrese’s request for a photo of the nest and plaque on learning the family could not travel to Anna Maria Island. Islander Photo: Courtesy Tammy Crouch Conyers/Facebook
Johnny, Lilyanna, then 6, and Whitney Calabrese in 2016, vacationing on Anna Maria Island. The family adopted a sea turtle nest to honor their unborn son, Lincoln. Islander Photo: Courtesy Whitney Calabrese

She said she didn’t know if she could ever come back to Anna Maria Island.

She said the tragedy was almost too much to bear.

Whitney Calabrese, a schoolteacher from Kentucky, had visited almost yearly since she and husband Johnny honeymooned on Anna Maria Island in 2006.

In the summer of 2016, Calabrese was five months pregnant when she and Johnny and daughter Lilyanna, then 6, again vacationed on the island. During that trip, Whitney became ill and, upon returning to Kentucky, found out their son, Lincoln, had died in utero. She said she believes it happened while they were vacationing. He later was delivered, stillborn.

“My love for AMI was almost destroyed through this catastrophe,” Calabrese wrote in a July 5 email to The Islander. “I really wasn’t sure if I could bear returning to what used to be our joyful place, but we did.”

They vacationed during the summer of 2017.

She said they decided to honor Lincoln by adopting a sea turtle nest through Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

AMITW offers an “adopt-a-nest” program, a sponsorship that brings donations to the group.

For $100, participants receive a plaque at the nesting site. They also receive a letter of appreciation, a certificate, data from their nest and a possible tax donation.

After the nest hatches, the honorary plaque goes to the donor.

When the program started in 2003, there were 10 or so sponsored plaques. This year, more than 200 nests were adopted, according to Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director.

Calabrese said when her family realized they would not be able to travel to the island this year to see their nest, she posted to an AMI Facebook group, asking if anyone would send her a picture.

The response was overwhelming.

She said within minutes 10 people from across the country offered assistance. “This included vacationers and locals. The post alone had 100 likes. Someone even stated they would follow the nest throughout the season and send photos via email,” Calabrese wrote.

She said the first posts were photos taken by a woman who also is a teacher from Kentucky.

“All at once, it brought tears and a smile to my face,” Calabrese wrote.

Fox said the adoption program is meant to be a source of happiness and healing.

“Many people who adopt nests are coming to terms with something sad or difficult,” Fox said. “By memorializing the event with something happy — the chance for new life — they are turning the tears into something that is beautiful.”

Calabrese said the nest adoption — and public response —reconnected her to the island.

“Something is so magical about the island,” Calabrese wrote. “It connects you to nature. It connects you to people. We’re so enthralled to think now our baby Lincoln has his own connection to the island as well.”

For more information, visit the AMITW website at www.islandturtlewatch.com and follow the link to adopt a nest.

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