I met this bench-vise little gripper basking in the slow lane.
Snappers, regardless of size, are pretty aggressive during the breeding season. This one was treated with visceral respect and given a
brusque gentle prod off the road and into the field. Such is the random luck (and lucklessness) of a turtle’s life.
Snapping turtles aren’t close to extinction or even threatened. Not like sea turtles.
The lives of these ancient ageless reptiles are incomprehensibly divine, a mystery that remains inscrutable to me.
I see their handiwork on my beach.
Sea turtles hatch from eggs under the sand, then dash around myriad obstacles on the beach in their turtle-dashing manner …..
…to the sea where they wander the vast ocean for years and travel thousands of miles before returning this very spot.
So Excellent a Fishe by Archie Carr is a smart informative book full of photos of turtles clambering laboriously out of the surf and overcoming all obstacles in order to reach their breeding sands.
At breeding time, when survival is in the most delicate balance, all sea turtles leave the familiar safety of the sea, where they have grown to a size that makes them almost immune to predation, and lumber ashore and expose themselves and their offspring to the hazards of the land. A green turtle on shore is almost defenseless. She weighs an average of nearly three hundred pounds but seems almost wholly unable to use her bulk and strength in active self-defense. She is awkward of gait, myopic of vision, and single-track of mind.
Somehow, they return to the very same beach where they were born to lay eggs of their own. How do they do it? Scientists say the turtles rely on magnetic fields and can compensate for wind and currents. I have GPS and a highly sophisticated brain (compared to a turtle, or so I’m told). Despite this, I’m likely to head off in the wrong direction when in unfamiliar territory.
We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
-T. S. Eliot
Now through July 24, the Oceanographic Society on Hutchinson Island offers guided late-night sea turtle walks. The evening includes an educational talk on sea turtle biology and conservation followed by a walk on the beach to observe nesting behavior.
You can watch the hatchlings emerge and head instantly for the open ocean where they try to survive until maturity. Like this bunch.
Life for sea turtles is just one harrowing thing after another. Some ingest plastic litter and debris or get entangled, then die or become stranded. Others get sick or die from eating floating plastic bags and balloons that they mistake for jellyfish. Capture in a commercial fishing net the size of a football field by shrimp trawlers is yet another threat to their survival.
If the mature turtles make it back to their birth beach, they’re besieged by artificial lighting. Lights from buildings along the beach distract and confuse the females as well as the “wrong-way” hatchlings that head towards the artificial light source instead of the natural light shining on the water. We darken the beach at nesting time. A simple, low-cost solution.
Beach re-nourishment programs and pollution of waterways from marine fuels and fertilizer runoff can also destroy or delay turtle nesting.
Challenging life, isn’t it? Shouldn’t a turtle’s life be more like this?
The world would be a poorer place without sea turtles. They’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs. Aldo Leopold wrote in his Sand County Almanac:
The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’… If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering