One afternoon, when I was probably about 13, my parents & I were sitting out on the beach. It was low tide, so the shoreline was huge. I glanced up to see something moving around the dunes. I thought it was just a plastic bottle blowing in the wind, so being a tree-hugger, I got up to walk over and throw it in a nearby trashcan.
When I approached, I realized that my assessment was completely wrong. It was a tiny, baby sea turtle who was late coming out of a nearby nest that had hatched the night before.
Our beach has a sea turtle patrol that monitors the turtle nests. When they are ready to hatch, the volunteers set up a "walkway" for the turtles to make their way to the ocean. They do this by carving out a path in the sand. No one is allowed to touch the turtles directly or interfere with their journey. It's something the turtles have to do on their own - a learning experience if you will.
The volunteers do intervene behind the scenes - keeping tourists away from the turtles, monitoring seagull and crab activity around the area, etc. They also have a big fluorescent light that they use to represent the moon to the babies in case the moon isn't visible the night they hatch.
Having seen this procedure unfold for a number of years (and watched a documentary on TV), when I saw this baby sea turtle I knew this situation was less than ideal. Since it was afternoon, there was no moon over the water for the baby to follow. The sun was in the top of the sky, so it would be easy for the baby to get confused. Plus, it was low tide and baby turtles are tiny. It was a long, long way for him to go. I couldn't pick him up and take him - first, because it was not a good idea for his development; second, because there is a steep fine for picking up a baby sea turtle.
I remembered something from the documentary I saw. A rescuer was trying to figure out a way to lead the baby turtles to the water on a moonless night. (Apparently, he didn't have his florescent light like the volunteers I knew.) The rescuer had taken a white shirt and the baby turtles followed his white shirt.
I just happened to have a white t-shirt in my bag. I made it my personal mission to see that this turtle survived to see the water. By this time, people were gathered around on the beach to see what was happening. The little baby turtle steadily followed my shirt. After a long time went by, he finally hit the water. It was beautiful.
I sat at the edge of the water with tears pouring out of my eyes for a long time.
I know that baby sea turtles have a low survival rate. But, I want to believe that little guy made it. The experience was life changing for me. I had a respect for nature before, but that increased ten-fold. If we don't step in, beautiful creatures like sea turtles won't be around in the generations to come.
Visit the Sea Turtle Restoration Project for more information about sea turtles and sea turtle rescue.
(BTW - Daily Post Prewritten - I'm on Vacation!)