Sea turtle moonlight crawl

Looking down Juno Beach at twilight, I saw a large dark blob slowly emerge out of the rolling surf. More ocean debris, I thought. When the surf subsided, the object continued to move forward. That’s definitely not debris; it’s a sea turtle!

Sea turtle background:
There are five different species of sea turtles that visit Florida’s beaches; Loggerhead, Green Turtle, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, and Hawksbill. A sea turtle’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 they make it the ocean, they have to outwit the ocean’s larger predators. Throw in the probability of getting stuck in trash or other man-made obstacles and it’s easy to understand why all five species are listed as endangered or threatened.

Privileged viewer:
As you can imagine, the prospect of 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 she is not disturbed which means no lights, flash photography, or even talking.

With amazing quiet and reverence, the impromptu crowd watched her. Surprisingly for almost an hour, people were in total silence or barely a whisper. No annoying ringtones, zero lights or flash photography, even a couple’s little dog was perfectly silent. I was inspired to see a group of strangers show such respect.

One final challenge:
After she finished laying her eggs, it was time to head back to the ocean which was another challenge. She had laid her eggs near a couple of pylons and moving forward required her to navigate a very tight space. Each move, placed her shell against a pylon which was enough resistance to prevent forward movement. The soft sand provided zero traction as she flapped her flippers to move forward. 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 just stop. The only illumination was from a full moon, but you could still see her breathe hard. This was no easy task.
With much effort, she rearranged her position perfectly and had a straight shot to the ocean. She didn’t get that big by giving up and tonight was no exception.


Freedom:
Once free and on the packed sand, she was promptly on the move. While turtles can’t run, I’d classify that last burst as fast walk. She stopped at the water’s edge, waiting for the next wave, which gave everyone a photo op.

She crawled into the next wave and disappeared into the moonlit night amidst applause from an reverent group of onlookers.

As I walked the moonlit beach, I felt humble and yet privileged to be able to view such an amazing feat of life. Life will definitely find a way…..

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