Across St. Croix from Sandy Point to Jack’s and Isaac’s Bays, sea turtle nesting patrols continue well into our humid, moonlit nights by dedicated, tireless technicians. Read what one Student Conservation Association patroller wrote about the experience of her first turtle season.
“The whole was cold and almost cruelly sad, but irreproachably quiet, free from symbolism except of the simple kind without which there can be no work of art, which permits us not only to feel the oppressive incomprehensibility of all nature but also to love it with a kind of sweet astonishment.”
The waves fold endlessly over themselves at each of my bioilluminated steps. When the moonlight glints from her carapace and her deep, labored breaths carry on the wind to my ears, I am always struck with the resounding beauty of an age past. She seems prehistoric and impossible, larger than life in all ways. She and I are on the beach at Sandy Point for the same reason: the preservation of a species sliding quickly into extinction. Her unwavering dedication to this preservation inspires our parallel efforts. She is unrelenting in her quest; in fact, she does not see me through her persistent veil as she begins her journey up the foreign, dry sand. I spy on her from a distance as she begins her elaborate routine, every movement fluid with the incomparable grace and elegance of unadulterated instinct. Under my feet, I feel the deep impact of her flippers against the sand as she flings away the dry, top layer. This is a process termed “bodypitting,” and leatherback turtles that were tagged on Sandy Point as far back as 1981 are returning still to employ the same method. Then, ever so delicately, she begins to carve a perfectly smooth and deep hole with her back flippers. Her movements are calculated and precise, interrupted only by the occasional heaving, guttural breath. Into this hole in the ground, she plants life and hope of her legacy. Later, she slips back into the sea, her presence noted on paper and across the sand in giant, swooping tracks.
Some months later, when her tracks have long disappeared, life quite literally springs forth! A roiling, furied stream of turtle hatchlings emerges from the sand, flowing and dissipating into the ocean. They then swim for their lives on a vast, transoceanic voyage, punctuated only later by brief nesting respites on the shores of St. Croix. Sadly, a very small fraction of hatchlings actually survive until maturity. Thus, the cycle strains to repeat, perpetuated by instinct, the invisible impetus of all nature- illogical, incomprehensible, and inherently beautiful.