Monday, April 18, 2011

First Turtle night walk of the 2011 season!

My companions and I battled with each footstep in the too-soft sand, struggling to keep up with our leader and trying, often in vain, to place our footsteps into those of the person in front for the compacted sand to ease our progress on the beach.
The world was beautiful and serene around us, our monochrome world of moonlight. The cacophonous waves of the Caribbean on one side, crashing against each other in their constant battle to reach the shore first, on the other: the impenetrable wall of jungle with it´s constant soundtrack of nightlife, so much more appealing than that of the city.
Although we walked with purpose, I didn´t once reflect upon that, I was too absorbed by my surroundings. The occasional scuttle of crabs, silent against the other night noises. Each shape that cast a shadow upon the sand a potential revelation, a potential excitement, maybe a creature! Often a log.
When the moon dipped behind a cloud, as it often did, we were reminded that it was night-time. As it returned to bathe us in that cleansing light it was almost too-bright, we had to squint.
About two thirds of the way up our stretch of beach we came upon the first signs of what we were searching for, a half moon track, very distinct and obviously fresh: the beach had been visited that very same evening by a mother, intent on laying her eggs.
We covered the survey distance in short time, so fast was our pace. When we sat for a break at the 14 mile marker I realised my fatigue. I snacked, watching the breakers and thought about our goal. I would have been delighted to see a turtle but decided that I was quite content to just return to base after such a beautiful experience.
I slung my pack onto my still-damp back, relishing the chill of the moist cloth pressed to my skin, turned, placing the sea on my left, and followed my colleagues south, homeward.
I had slipped into an internal reverie, still mindful of my surroundings, still in awe of my current situation but lost in thoughts none-the-less, when we came upon the track. It left the sea and climbed the beach. There were no signs of a descent, a return to the waves. The moon had descended so low in the sky that the shadow of the jungle cast over the beach and the top end of the track. Sonja, our patrol leader followed it to investigate. Her excitement was palpable when she returned: we were finally going to get to meet a leatherback turtle!
Normally we would allow her to locate a suitable spot, dig her body pit and dig her egg chamber before we would approach to count her eggs and gather valuable data to learn more about these beautiful, gentle creatures. However, on this occasion she had already built her nest – so to speak – and had started to lay her clutch. We all sprang into action, assuming our pre-decided roles as if we had done it dozens of times before during the training.
I can´t describe my feelings at this point in any way as to do them justice. I was mesmerised. Even the more stoic members of our group had big goofy grins painted on their tired faces. What an experience! There were so few people in the world that can claim to have ever encountered a leatherback and we were the first in our group of volunteers.
On our return to base we relived the textures and sounds with each other in simple, knowing glances. Smiles all round. Even when I lay in my bed, soaked from a last minute downpour I couldn´t stop my grin!
I dreamed of turtles last night.
Tim Stephen