At first all we saw was a crowd of vultures. “That’s probably where they will be, if there are any” said Denia, squinting through the rising sun at the next bay over, spotted with what seemed like dozens of black vultures. As we picked our way around the cliff, running over the pancake like rocks in between sets of waves I was struck at the beauty of the natural reserve – white sandy beaches, perfect breaks and lush green forest. It was worlds different from the dirty brown/black beach where we had started our hour long walk.
When we came closer to the first group of vultures, Laura suddenly gave a shout and sprinted over to them, yelling and waving a stick. She looked around and quickly spotted the first nest. A tiny head poked out, squinting at its first ever view of this world. It’s tiny flippers laboured until it dug its way out of the hole. First one, then two, then ten, then about fifty turtles slowly emerged. They raised their tiny little heads as if gathering their bearing and then, as if struck by this magical, primordial instinct, they took off in the direction of the ocean, scrambling over sticks and mounds of sand until they finally reached the edge of the water to be engulfed by their salty home.And one of the most amazing things is that once one nest hatches, all the others do so you have hundreds of baby turtles all running for the ocean at the same time
Aristotle once said “In all things of nature, there is something of the marvellous”. Indeed the experience of watching baby olive ridley turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean had a lot of the marvellous, the spiritual and the primordial in it.
It also had a lot of the macabre and the ironic in it. For while these cute, tiny turtles are making their way to the ocean, the crabs and vultures and sea birds and fish are making a meal out of them. As soon as we saw the first nest, we realized that the other groups of vultures could only mean one thing and for the next two hours we dispersed, each of us finding a few nests to guard as the vultures and the crabs snuck around us and picked off individual turtles. Watching these turtles hatch instilled in me a much greater sense of respect and appreciation for sea turtles. Of a nest of about 50 I wouldn’t be surprised if only 5 of them actually make it to maturity, the rest being eaten by birds, turtles, animals or pummelled by the crashing waves.Which makes it even sadder to hear such frequent reports of turtles being caught in fishing nets and hunted for their shells.
What struck me more than anything was the longing and the primordial desire for the ocean that the turtles show from the second they hatch. There is something so timeless, so eternal in their longing for the ocean that, for me at least, it epitomizes the concept of home. It is like they poke their heads out of the sand, sense the ocean and the very first thought that crosses their mind is “I’m going home”. I think in all of us there is an ache, a longing for home and it truly is a spiritual experience to watch that play out right in front of you.
My camera died but this video totally captures the wonder of the moment
As the sun rose higher in the sky and we ran out of water, the four of us convened to watch the last turtle of one of the nests travel the last few meters towards the ocean. It was once of those moments that felt to me like the ending to some book or movie: the four of us sitting in silence on this beautiful strip of deserted beach, the tropical nicaraguan jungle behind us, staring at the gorgeous and wild pacific ocean in front of us and meditating on the beauty of what we just witnessed. But movies are unrealistic and, as if to remind us of life’s cruel and natural balance, seconds before the turtle reaches the safety of the foaming ocean a sea bird swoops down and grabs the turtle in its talons.The four of us lurch forward with a yell, meters away from the turtle but it is too late – we watched, horrified and with the taste of irony in our mouths, as the sea bird carries off the baby turtle to its inevitable death.
At that point all you can really do is laugh, glance once more at this stretch of undeveloped beach, wondering if Nicaragua will get its act together quick enough to protect the turtles before they go extinct, and give thanks for being able to witness one of natures greatest (and arguably cutest) events.