No one was suppose to be on the pier so early in the morning but as the last day of vacation was about to begin I simply could not sleep and needed some fresh air. Standing on Disney's Vero Beach resort pier jutting out rather high over that Florida beach I looked out at the ocean and despite the light pollution coming from asinine landscape lighting illuminating the ornamental shrubs and fancy lawns of nearby homes I was actually able to make out a little of the stars of the Milky Way stretching out above me. Just moments before I had left stuffy the room I was sharing with my wife and daughter and sought escape from the dehumidified air and a few minutes to myself before the new day begun.
Only a few short hours separated me from my daughter, Miss Wiggles, waking up and demanding one last trip to the resort pool. A few hours after that my wife, Dragonwife, would be up and racing time itself to have everything packed so we could be back on the road. Admittedly, we did have to drop by her parent's house on the way home to pick up our son who had elected to stay with his grandparents instead of going with us to Florida. Being totally cut off from his friends and forced to walk the streets of Mouse Land with nerdy parents and a six year old sister was something he just could not handle.
Despite my best efforts I just could not find any joy in returning home. The last couple days had been spent next the blue Atlantic ocean and I could actually feel my soul again connecting with the ocean surf, soft warm sand, and salty breezes that shared so much in common with the area around my old hometown, Georgetown, South Carolina. I had also found the people of the Vero Beach area laid back, warm, and friendly. Now living in Columbia, South Carolina, both the distance from the coast and the demands of job and family left me as landlocked as some poor fool trapped in the middle of a dry and desolate continent thousands of miles from the ocean.
Making things more interesting the tightly packed and controlled conditions associated with suburban sprawl, traffic overloading the roadways, and general frantic pace of life in the Midlands of South Carolina made it a strange place that I never have felt comfortable in or at home. So using all five of my senses I did my best to soak up all that was around me so I could have memories to cling to when the promise of modern American life started to ring hollow again.
It was still very dark and I don't remember the moon being up but after several minutes my eyes adjusted I did begin to notice some sort of movement on the sand below me along with hearing muffled sounds. It was very easy to notice over the last couple of days that the resort had played host to several newly married couples on their honeymoons. They had made quite the spectacles of themselves with their amorous behavior around the pool and I figured that I had stumbled on a very early morning fling in the sand. As I was about to back away to give the couple their privacy some deeply sad moan caught my attention, almost demanding I come closer to the source of the movement. I walked down the handicap access ramp of the pier, climbing over the security gate, to the bottom as quietly as my rubber sandals walking on the windblown sand scattered across the wooden slats would let me. I questioned the judgment of my actions but whatever sound I heard was not that of orgasmic joy but something more akin to someone in deep mourning. Coming to the end of the ramp I found the source of the sadness.
At the very base of the ramp a female Leatherback turtle was filling in the nest in which she had just laid her eggs. Despite my attempt at being as quiet as possible I'm sure Mama Turtle had heard my approach but she continued to calmly fill the nest in. We had been fully briefed upon arrival to the resort that disturbing, or even coming near, one of these endangered animals could get someone in serious trouble. But curiosity had the better of me and I slowly moved closer. Mama turtle paid me no mind and I watched her huge flippers scoop sand back into the hole below her. She was at least six feet long and her skin was a shiny black. Her motions as sand was moved were slow and deliberate and she seemed as tired as she seemed ancient.
It was then that I felt a strange kinship with the creature in front of me. We would both soon leaving a place we would rather be. Millions of years of physical evolution and deep instinct were pushing Mama Turtle back to the sea and away from her children. I, on the other hand, would soon be forced away from the ocean I felt so much a part of because of the need to return my children to the place they call home.
All during this I had not moved a muscle, hell I was so transfixed I barely breathed watching her. However, once the hole that now protected her nestlings was covered Mama turtle seemed to collapse in exhaustion. I knew there was nothing I could do for her no matter how much the kid in me wished I could load her up on some sort of cart and give her a ride to the welcoming ocean.
Just when I started to get worried I caught sight of her making very small movements with her flippers trying to get some traction in the loose sand. Mama Turtle seemed like some train moving out of a station building up steam as she moved along. Straining to move forward she lifted her head in such a way that the gleam of some far off light reflected off her eye facing me. Somewhere deep down I could feel she was appraising me, trying to figure out if I was a threat to her or to the eggs she had just laid.
"Rest easy old mama", I said. " I won't bother you or your children." She hesitated for an instant, whether it was out of fear or surprise I have no idea. Whatever the case, she turned her head away from me and slowly crawled back to the shore and in the darkness slipped into the water and swam away.
***Author's note: What brought me to write about this encounter was a recent story that was ran across several sources about how Leatherbacks are being killed due to ingestion of plastics. Plastic bags, spoons, monofilament line, candy wrappers and more. These creature have been on the planet for one-hundred fifty million years and the arrogance and ignorance of hairless primates with delusions of grandeur now seriously threaten them. Please read the linked article and for God's sake clean up your freaking trash from off the beaches that so many leave blowing in the wind.***
A new study looked at necropsy reports of more than 400 leatherbacks that have died since 1885 and found plastic in the digestive systems of more than a third of the animals. Besides plastic bags, the turtles had swallowed fishing lines, balloon fragments, spoons, candy wrappers and more.
"Eating something that is plastic can't be good for you, whether it leads to death or not," said Mike James, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "It's not what they should be eating. And it's kind of scary that it is showing up in their diet to the extent that it is."
Leatherbacks are also popular for what they eat: namely, large quantities of jellyfish. The problem is that plastic bags look a lot like jellyfish, and plastic often ends up in the oceans, piling up in areas where currents -- and turtles -- converge. That led James to wonder how much often the turtles were swallowing plastic in their hunt for yummy jellyfish.