Instinctual Wisdom of Sea Turtles

The warm, sunny day was exactly what the nests needed. After days of torrential rain and cool temperatures, our sea turtle babies were not encouraged to dig. The sand was hardened and wet, like concrete, and the air not conducive to reptile body systems. But this day…this beautiful hot, Gulf Coast day was perfect to assist in a hatching that had seemed imminent two days ago.

Our team was assisting with a nest a couple days behind another one close by and so I arrived early for my shift and walked west to check with the Laguna Key team to see how their nest was progressing. Camera in hand, I meandered in the sand enjoying the heat and sunset hues reflecting on the water. The smell of salt filled the steady breeze off the Gulf. Bliss, peace….heaven maybe.

When Sherry, L.K.’s team leader, saw me she motioned me into the nest area and showed me the crater moving with soon-to-hatch loggerheads. I took several photos and she positioned me there to watch and signal her when flippers or noses or entire bodies emerged. Meanwhile the L.K. team and East Beach team members began arriving and preparations were made to welcome these little turtle angels into the world. (I make no apologies for referring to sea turtle babies as angels, or precious beings or darlings….they make my heart melt and to state my affection for them in any other terms would be grossly dishonest).

I started standing watch around 7.15pm and as the sky darkened I wondered if my eyes would be able to distinguish the dark shadows from newly hatched turtles making a dash for the water. Thankfully the sturdy tarp enclosing three sides of the nest gave me a bit of assurance and I trusted that my eyes would detect movement. So I stood guard beside this nest of tiny beings, unknowingly casting their spell of saltwater magic onto everyone gathered to assist and witness their journey. Tourists, locals and veteran sea turtle volunteers were all helplessly under the spell of hatchlings.

When I returned home I wrote an account of what happened from beginning to end of the event but that doesn’t tell the real story for me. It is a shadow of my personal experience and so it is this deep process of connection with the primitive that I wish to share with you, my faithful and kind readers.

First, I was bewildered to be invited into a sacred space such as this–to stand as watcher of the nest. As I stood gazing into the moving crater, many emotions moved through me. Happiness, joy, excitement are a few but gratitude stood out more than any other feeling. Years ago I watched a loggerhead dig a nest and lay eggs when I was park naturalist at Gulf State Park. I have often been scuba diving and had amazing encounters with sea turtles and even had the opportunity to find a nest and help re-locate it a few weeks ago. But this….witnessing these ancient creatures repeat their miraculous arrival and march to the ocean….well, that was profoundly moving and meaningful.

As I stood waiting and watching, I thought of all the sea turtles I’d seen while diving. Remembering the giant loggerhead I came nose-to-nose with on a night dive in the Bahamas…thinking back to the Hawksbill I observed on my recent trip to Bonaire…and recalling a waltz I witnessed one sea turtle–missing a back flipper–do with a videographer…these experiences filled my mind and I thought, You little ones have such adventures awaiting you– coral reefs, sharks, divers, jellyfish, sponges, sea weed, and possibly even returning to this very beach to nest in 20 years or so. I’m not sure sea turtles can receive images via their reptilian brains, but in those moments before they emerged, I saw clear visions of what can be for them. Wondrous, amazing experiences. Beauty beyond belief. All possible.

A nose appeared while the sky was still light and quickly ducked back under the cover of white sand. Yet the movement continued as babies pushed their way up, up to their first glimpse of starlit skies. Their first breaths of salty air.

As the sky darkened all hope of capturing images of the babies evaporated and I surrendered to the moment, to the miracle of life. And before long, when the stars had outwitted the sun and twinkled brightly in the black sky, the hole turned black with babies and they began their journey from earth to ocean.

I watched carefully as some tried to climb the embankment instead of follow their siblings to the water. Carefully, gently I pushed sand under them and they slowly slid back into the chaotic line of purposeful movement, instinctually drawn to light reflecting on the water and the smell of water. One youngster veered far off course and another team member asked me to hand the baby to him so he could take him to rejoin the others. Oh so gently I lifted the fat and lively loggerhead baby into Rick’s hands and smiled as he went off to join the others. I whispered blessings to each one, to all and asked angels to help them in their life’s journey.

What makes sea turtles know to be quiet when someone approaches the nest? What makes them duck from the light and await the cover of night to make their journey? How do they find their way back 20 years later to lay eggs of the same beach from which they were born?

Science has a way of explaining it but for me it’s pure instinctual wisdom that can never be explained. It’s the primitive connection to the Earth and Ocean that simply is. This level of wisdom is something many humans find difficult to believe because we live disconnected from the cycles of nature, the tides, the seasons.

Sitting the last ten days on the beach for four or five hours at a time in darkness has made me intensely aware of the rhythms of nature. And I crave more, want more barriers between me and the Earth, between the Ocean and me to fall away so there is only union between us, only connection….only flow.

4 Thoughts on “Instinctual Wisdom of Sea Turtles

  1. Barbara Wascom on July 23, 2012 at 11:17 pm said:

    What a wondwerful experience for you and as usual, your description is beautiful!! Thank you, Barbara

  2. Vicki Clarke on July 25, 2012 at 5:04 pm said:

    What a wonderful gift you have to use words in such a way they envoke such sentiment and emotion to the reader. Your recounting was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve had the pleasure to read. You transported me into the moment and after having recently sat a nest for 25 days only to have had all of the baby turtle angels be found dead due the effects of TS Debby, you brought me renewed hope for our future nests. Thank you so very much.

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