August 29, 2010

Turtle eggs.

I've been telling everyone I see today that I watched a sea turtle lay her eggs in Mexico. And it is true.

While we were there, several people local to Tulum told me that it is the season for sea turtles to lay their eggs. They recommended that we walk along the beach at night - calmly - to try to spot one of them. So on Saturday night, we set off to find a turtle. Driftwood surfaced in several spots and in the darkness from afar we were sure that we had found our turtle. Each time, we were wrong and so after about 30 minutes of walking, we just got into talking and enjoyed the moon on the water and our feet descending into the sand with each step.

Then we stopped dead and sunk deeper. This was not driftwood in front of us. This, right where the water met the shore in its final push, was a sea turtle. 350 or 400 pounds of sea turtle. She was majestic - the most royal, lumbering thing I had ever seen. The photos are bizarre because this was at 11pm, but you can kind of get an idea of the light, the space, the splendor of this moment.

I've seen turtles in the water. Balletic. On land, they transform into barges. She began at the shore and slowly, slowly made her way up to the top of the beach. Every movement was an undertaking - but she was so completely devoted to her task. After she had moved up the beach a few meters, we gingerly moved close to her tracks - which were 3 feet across. Her belly rubbed smooth the middle and the borders were flipper chops cut in the sand - like parentheses stacked on top of each other, over and over in the sand. After 30 minutes of slow toil, she reached the top of the beach - where a line of wooden lawn chairs formed a roadblock. These were not frail chairs (I tried to move one a bit to be out of her way and could hardly do it). With one of her flippers, she knocked one clean over. Note: Chris and I were very respectful - we kept our distance until we realized she was essentially blind on land and we were not disturbing her even a bit. When she determined the sacred spot where her eggs would be kept, we sat reverently on the chairs to watch her go to work.

We sat there for an hour. It was clear she had done this before. It was like a routine produced and rhythmically reproduced in exactly the same manner. First, she used both her front and back flippers to dig a hole around and engulfing herself - her entire self. She was quickly covered by sand. When the hole was about as deep as she was, she started to dig the smaller hole where the eggs would actually be stored. This hole was dug only with her back two flippers. One by one, delicately - almost daintily, she would drive her flippers in and would perch sand on top of them to fling it away from the small hole. As you can see, I was perched close enough that one of the flippers of sand was flung in my face and eyes and I did my best just to blink it away and keep watching I was so intrigued. In one flipper would go, carefully, meticulously in exactly the same position as the last time, to keep the nest's diameter unchanged. Deeper and deeper, until she was finally persuaded that this would be the sanctuary for her babies that she would leave behind.

1 comment:

Mary Elizabeth Liberty said...

so funny that they have those chairs set up right in the nesting zone, and funnier that you were lounging so close for the happening. Those are some determined turtles!

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