Monday, 10 May 2010

A mother's day gift: saving a leatherback

Midnight, Mother’s Day 2010: At the beach, we killed our lights upon emerging from the dark forest, knowing how skittish seaturtles are to flashes of light on potential nesting sights. After a few moments adjusting to the darkness, the white foam of the surf, and the coral-grain sand become relatively bright beacons on the dark, midnight island. Then we see it: 6 feet voluminous dome, in dark contrast to the sand. Thought we can’t see its details, the size and smell mean only one thing: a nesting leatherback burying her eggs.

We’re on Union Island, a small Grenadine Island in the Caribbean, on a turtle patrol to monitor the population and protect against poachers. We approach the ancient turtle from the rear and turn on redlight, to which they’re insensitive. I crack a smile as I see the back flippers strain dexterously in an ancient ritual to move sand about the nest.

But all is not as it should be. The scales buckle and purse to the tug of a thin, taut thread. The turtle is covered in a net. Its face and front flippers are a horrifying sight, as the fishing net has found its complex peace ensnarling its entire front, cutting into pinkish flesh and carapace. What can the sad creature do, but try to live on, try to satisfy its unrelenting urge to live and pass on new life. It surely would not have lived much longer.

We moved quickly. She had finished and was trying to leave, digging massive flippers into the sand and throwing us off as it drove its tonnage towards the sea. We cut and sawed at the convoluted knots, and begged the creature to stand still. It frothed and groaned to the molestation. I tried to lure it back to the beach with the mesmerizing red light.

In time we see it free, and with new-found mobility she made a quick dash to the breakers and was gone. I thought "what a perfect way to celebrate mother’s day", by letting one ancient mum live and to give life another day.

It was also an appropriate introduction to seaturtles. This is the sad norm for most of them: dangled, choking, and drowning in the littered, despoiled seas we have wrought. They’re numbers are on the brink of extinction, an accomplishment that 110 millions years of dangerous and variable Earth’s could not trump. I hope they outlive us.

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