Rain was threatening to ruin Bryan and Kasi Aldridge’s Panama City Beach wedding, until some uninvited guests arrived.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Just about everything was telling Bryan and Kasi Aldridge they shouldn’t have chosen a beach wedding.
Despite getting engaged on a beach, in Mexico over Thanksgiving, their wedding on the world’s most beautiful beaches last Tuesday was turning out to be anything but. The region was under a flash flood watch for much of the week. It rained during their ceremony, and a bolt of lightning flashed just as they were signing the marriage license, driving the party indoors.
But Mother Nature, and photographer Laura Jennings, had other plans.
With only two hours blocked out for their wedding shoot, Jennings coaxed the Missouri couple back out onto the white sand in front of 13223 Oleander Drive for one last go at some photos before it got too dark. And that’s when the bride and groom saw them.
Dozens of little dark specks emerging from the sand and crawling toward the beach. Kasi Aldridge thought it was crabs at first, but then realized they were coming from a section of sand blocked off for a sea turtle nest.
“We started yelling, ‘Turtles! Turtles!’” Kasi Aldridge recalled.
All told, over 100 tiny loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings dug their way out of the nest and crawled into the Gulf of Mexico while the wedding party watched the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“It was the best wedding gift ever,” Kasi Aldridge said.
For Jennings, the moment was both serendipitous and a testament to the trust her clients had in her judgement. Had it not rained during the ceremony, they likely would have missed the hatching, and if they hadn’t trusted her, they wouldn’t have made it back down into the sand.
“To witness such an event, new life coming into this world, cannot be put into words, it was truly amazing, beautiful and something not many people get to experience,” Jennings said.
On Friday, Panama City Beach Sea Turtle Watch excavated the nest — number 11 of the season — finding about 95 hatched eggshells and three or four unhatched eggs. The eggshells, which are soft and leathery instead of hard, like chicken eggs, will be returned to nature, while the unhatched eggs will be sent to a researcher.
Sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 to October 31. So far this year, 45 nests have been laid along Panama City Beach, all by loggerhead turtles, which are the most common nesting turtles in the area. Nests usually incubate for about 60 days, relying on temperature cues to signal when to hatch. Nest number 11 was laid in early June, according to Turtle Watch volunteer Jenn Sims.