Sheila Harnois had her first encounter with a sea turtle one warm summer evening more than 15 years ago.
Walking along a beach at the southern end of the Space Coast, Sheila and her family discovered a female loggerhead, just as the massive beast was dragging its 250+ pound body onto the shore to lay eggs. The group watched in awe as the turtle dug a nest and labored through the process of dropping some 100 eggs.
Sheila was visiting from Connecticut at the time, and her sister-in-law, a local resident, led the family on an evening stroll along the coastline, hoping to spot some turtle action. The touching scene they witnessed that night remained fondly etched in Sheila’s memory.
Four years ago, after retiring and moving to Satellite Beach, Sheila found the Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS). Hoping to learn more about sea turtles, as well as the local community, she attended a turtle talk presented by the group at the Satellite Beach library. The talk inspired her to action. As a life-long educator, this retired school teacher quickly became involved in the sea turtle preservation effort. She worked first as a volunteer in the STPS store, and later found her niche in an educational outreach program. Sheila now presents turtle awareness classes to elementary and home-school programs, summer schools, summer camps, and other organizations such as girl scouts. She remains busiest during the sea turtle nesting season, May through October, but teaches at least monthly throughout the year.
“I love teaching and entertaining people,” Sheila said. “I have turtle puppets to help entertain and teach the elementary school children, but adults love them as well.” The puppets help Sheila explain the differences between land and sea turtles.
In addition to educational outreach, Sheila recently volunteered to serve as the STPS Media Coordinator. In that position, she hopes to increase public awareness of what she considers a “local treasure.” She said, “We have the largest area for green and loggerhead turtle nesting in the U.S, we need to preserve it."
Sheila loves the Space Coast region and enjoys an active retirement. In addition to STPS, she keeps busy biking, attending yoga classes, and baking. Her husband, Jim, is also involved in community service efforts. They have three adult children. Their two daughters have followed in their mother’s footsteps, finding careers in education. Margaret McDade is a math teacher in Ashville, NC, and Catherine Harnois, is a professor of sociology at Wake Forest, IL. Their son, James, is a firefighter in Wyoming.
Sheila is passionate about her support to sea turtle preservation and educating the community about this cause. To request a class or turtle outreach of any kind, Sheila advises emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, “Visit the store!” she says.