While visiting Juno Beach at twilight one recent evening, I noticed a large dark blob slowly emerge from the rolling surf. Ocean debris, I thought. But when the waves subsided, the object continued to move forward. That’s definitely not debris; it’s a sea turtle!
There are five different species of sea turtles that visit Florida’s beaches to lay their eggs: Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, and Hawksbill. This ancient reptile’s life is challenging from day one. As a new hatchling, it has to dodge hungry birds, curious humans, and the hot sun on its way to the ocean. If the baby reptiles manage to make it the water, they have to outwit numerous predators of the deep. Throw in the possibility of getting stuck in floating trash or other man-made obstacles, and it’s easy to understand why all five species are listed as endangered or threatened.
As you can imagine, being able to witness such a magnificent, yet fragile species lay her eggs was quite exciting. After the slow trek up the beach, she found a spot under one of the boardwalks and began digging. It is critical that a nesting female not be disturbed during this laborious process, which means no headlights, flash lights, lanterns, flash photography, or even talking.
With amazing quiet and reverence, an impromptu crowd gathered to observe. I was impressed that for almost an hour, people stood in near total silence with barely a whisper. No annoying ringtones or artificial lights. Even a couple’s little dog was perfectly quiet. It was inspiring to see a group of strangers show such respect.
After the mama turtle finished laying her eggs, it was time to head back to the ocean. This, too, was quite a challenge. She had dug her nest near a couple of pylons and had to navigate a very tight space. Each move placed her shell against a pylon which prevented forward movement. The soft sand offered zero traction as she flapped her flippers wildly. If you’ve ever been stuck in the sand or snow, you understand the scenario. She’d fling sand everywhere with little progress and then stop to rest.
The only illumination was from a full moon, but you could still see her breathing hard. Finally, with much effort, the determined reptile turned herself around and had a straight shot to the ocean. There was no quit in this feisty female.
Once on the packed sand, she covered the last several feet pretty quickly, stopping at the water’s edge to wait for the next wave. This gave everyone a photo op. I like to think it was her way of saying thank you for looking out for her. The ancient mariner then disappeared into the moonlit night amidst applause from the reverent onlookers.
As I walked the along moonlit beach, I felt humbled and privileged to be able to view such an amazing feat of life that has being ongoing virtually unchanged for eons. Life will definitely find a way.