Apologies to anyone who’s already sick of my talking about the sea turtles. As I wrote on Tuesday, I’m at Topsail Island, N.C. and it’s turtle hatching season. On Monday night, my friends and I just missed watching 48 little turtles hatch and make the long way down into the ocean.
Tonight, I looked over at the site where they had hatched and there was a group gathered, so I went running down. Representatives from Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, whom I donated to on Tuesday, were at the nest. Seventy-two hours after a hatching, they come back and clean out the nest and look for babies who didn’t hatch with the others, as well as check to see if there are any remaining eggs, fertilized or otherwise.
They found 12 baby turtles all alive. I got there just in time to see them pull out the last one and watched it take its first little awkward steps on the sand. All 12 were put in a bucket with plans to release them into the sea as soon as it got dark. Apparently, they’re very delicate creatures. We couldn’t make any loud noises or take pictures with a flash. The volunteer conservationists also found two unfertilized eggs and two fertilized eggs that hadn’t hatched yet. The dozen turtles either weren’t ready to hatch when the other four dozen did or they weren’t strong enough to make it out of the nest, which is about two feet deep—or however deep the mama turtle can reach with her flipper to dig.
About 30 minutes later, after it started to get dark (turtles don’t like sunlight either), we all walked down to the ocean’s edge and the volunteers released the turtles lovingly and gently as we all seemed to hold our collective breaths. They didn’t have to make the whole trek from the nest to the water through the sand, but the turtles did need to go from the shore (so they can imprint where they came from and possibly return to lay eggs themselves 20-30 years from now) and make it against the incoming high tide.
It was breathtaking to watch the turtles. They are so little and the sea is so vast. It seems impossible that they will even make it into the water, but they did and we watched as one by one, they swam past the incoming, powerful tide to start the journey to the Gulf. One little fellow washed back up a few times, but even he eventually made it out to sea... or at least into the water beyond where the volunteers could assist him.
Two thoughts came into my mind, one ridiculous, one sublime: H.I.’s line from “Raising Arizona”: “It’s a hard world on little things,” and the traditional folk song, “The Water Is Wide,” which I first heard by Karla Bonoff years ago. I just had the line, “The water is wide, I can’t cross over,” running through my head as I thought about these tiny creatures and the insurmountable odds they face and yet they rush in driven by some primal force, just as millions of turtles have done before them for millions of years.
As I sit here listening to the waves violently crashing up against the shore, I think of their long journey and how fortunate I was to see the beginning. I feel strangely attached to them and protective, maybe because it’s so rare to get to see something so beautiful, natural, and primitive like this or maybe because their struggle is so daunting from the start that I realized a little two-inch turtle has more courage than I’ll ever have against much longer odds.
I already gave to the local turtle rescue, but I just can’t leave my little turtles behind yet, so today I’m giving to Seaturtle.org, which does the same thing that the rehab center here does but on a larger level.
Sept. 12: Seaturtle.org
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