Clearwater Marine Aquarium has already counted 52 sea turtle nests as of June 12. Several are close to where I’ll be staying. I’m looking forward to walking the beach every morning. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be the first to see a set of fresh tracks, or even a late arrival just finishing her work.
There’s something magical about sea turtles returning to their home sand to build their nests and lay their eggs. It’s in the long history – sea turtles have been performing this rite every spring for millions of years. It’s in the length of the journey – some sea turtles swim across half an ocean just to reach the beach from which they were born. It’s in the sadness I feel knowing that barely 1 in 1000 hatchlings will survive. No, I don’t believe the turtles themselves feel that same sadness, though the mothers do “cry” salty tears as they make their way up and down the beach. These mothers will never know their babies, of course; by the time the hatchlings scramble madly down the beach the mother will be far, far away.
It’s also in the way mysteries merge. The nighttime arrival from the dark and unknown sea. Not unknown to the turtle, of course, as it is her only home. Instead, it is our world of sand and air and beach chairs that is the mystery to her. It is the only time in her life she will venture onto land; what a terrifying journey it must be for her – if turtles can feel such emotions.
It is in the eggs, left cozied into their surrogate mother the sand. Born from the land, the warmth of the Sun and the cool night breezes, these tiny bits of life will literally swim down the beach until that first wave of salt water passes over their bodies and carries them out into the dark and dangerous sea that will be the only home they’ll ever know.
These creatures have seen our planet change and move over the millennia. They’ve seen other species come and go. They’ve watched our own species rise from a small, naked ape who fearfully approached the shoreline to a creature capable of sailing the seas, exploring its depths, and altering forever the lives of every other creature on the planet.
Don’t get me wrong; I think people are amazing, fantastic, the most significant creatures this planet has ever produced. But our way isn’t the only way. There’s something to be said, too, for an animal that lives its life quietly, away from the light and the noise, in my very favorite place on Earth, the place where the ocean meets the sky.
Here I come!