Darkness. I’m consumed by sand. In every direction I hear the sound of beating hearts. This multiplies as time ticks on by slowly. I know where I am, somehow. I have no memory otherwise and don’t know if I’ll even remember this. For some indescribable reason, I’m possessed to wait. Something is coming today and when it does I’ll just know what to do and how to do it. I’ll be awesome and I’ll just know how.
For now though, i wait..
Who knows how much time passes, but the beating hearts are anticipating movement. All of a sudden, there’s a scramble upwards. Digging digging digging – together. I’m gaining strength by the second, and just as quickly as it began the moment ceases. More waiting.
Here I notice a power reducing, causing our dark sandy space to reduce in temperature. Since the darkness began, and the journey upwards, I’ve been anticipating things cooling down so I can continue safely.
Like piercing through a weakened dam, the heartbeats thrash into an erratic scramble ever upwards. I push, many times the length of my body and BANG! No time to waste I’m into the night and completely exposed. The heartbeats are popping out of the sand in every direction, their bodies shaped just like mine – four curved appendages made for swimming in water (yet surprisingly capable for the job of scrambling) and a top casing circular in shape with a symmetrical pattern through it and to the edge.
My destination – it awaits.
I scramble. I’m moving towards the dim horizon light before me away from the deeper darkness of towering, swaying silhouette figures. I know that my purpose is towards the light and towards the crashing noise, waves of never ending energy pounding the coast and guarding my destination.
Each movement I make with my body the swaying of appendages propels me forward. I make ground on the sound, hurrying intensely stopping only briefly to catch my breath.
Forward. Forward. Forward. We’re spread out now in a rough line, all intent. The sand below me becomes damp and compact and I sped across this fresher surface with relative ease. The sound has become a roar. Whatever it is is crashing and getting closer and looming larger. I arrive, and in in a moment, I’m gone.
The current takes me. My fins, designed and powered to propel me through the water, do so effortlessly.
From sand pit to ocean in a matter of minutes.
The first few moments of a turtles life are well known to many. These moments are incredible. It is a joy to experience the presence of such small beings being thrown straight into the deep end of life without a grain of parental guidance to send them on their way. It’s almost humbling.
Humans are fascinated in animals void of parental nurture. We struggle to comprehend the ‘how??’. ‘How does it do that, without going to school!?
It blows our minds.
There are places you can go to witness fresh turtles leaving the nest and making their hurried way to the shore and the big blue. I did this recently, and here’s what I learnt about the endangered Loggerhead turtle, and what you and I can do to help them.
For every female that makes her way up out of the water to the sand dunes, she will lay on average 120 eggs. The females, extremely exposed on land (being quite sizeable, weighty, and mostly aquatic beings), will not begin to dig the nest and lay if there’s any activity or disturbance, such as the presence of humans nearby. If the coast is clear, she’ll take around an hour to see the job through. Each female can lay up to five times (maybe six!) per season that stretches from October to March. Once the season is over, it’ll be another two to three years before she’ll return, the time needed to build up her fat reserves to be able to withstand the whole ordeal once again.
At the largest rookery of Loggerhead turtles in the southern hemisphere, 350 or 400 females can come in each season to lay. This means tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of turtles hatch each season.
The eggs incubate under the sand for a few months, with the sex of the turtle being determined by the temperature of the sand. The warmer the sand, the more likely the egg will produce a female hatchling. Too warm, and the egg will cook (occasionally the mother turtles lay their eggs too close to the surface, and, to help alleviate the already mounting pressure on the species, rangers shift the clutch to ‘cooler’ and safer sand).
After hatching they make their way across the sand at night – without any guidance. It’s amazing. The crossing of the beach to the water is like the GPS positioning of a new satellite navigation device, with the hurried scamper to the ocean programs them to know exactly which beach they came from, and allows them to return to the exact same place to lay in thirty or so years. Without this shuffle to the shore (for example, if someone saw a baby turtle and ‘helped’ it across the sand and straight into the water), it would essentially be lost forever, with no bearings to its beginnings.
For every 1000 eggs, only 1 survives to sexual maturity. Naturally, the sheer size of offspring numbers accounts for their difficult and highly predated life ahead of them.
1 in 1000 – crazy odds!
What’s more, is they now have the increased (and ever increasing) presence of humans in their lifecycle. Plastic pollution, boat strikes, increased visitation of beaches, coastal development and industrialisation – it’s intense, the human turtle relationship..
I’ll explore things further, next time..