essays by shé

Turtle Patrol

Don’t do it, I think and grab their ankles, just long enough to get their attention. We surface, and I spit out my snorkel. “You need to stay fifteen feet away from sea turtles.” One of the girls seems to listen, but the other quickly sinks below. Fortunately, the young honu (green sea turtle) is gone. Neither girl says a word to me, and I watch them swim away, still furious. What right do you have to chase a wild creature in its own habitat? We are visitors here – show some respect!

Anger doesn’t drain away until I sit on a log onshore and meditate. Why does this bother me so much? The girls were happy to see a turtle. Could I have handled it differently? No. Turtles are my children. I will not have them harassed.

I’d been snorkeling farther out, gently following (not chasing) a school of pale yellow pert-nosed fish with dark vertical stripes. They surrounded me as I floated. I was blissed out, and heading in. Then I saw the honu, rising for air. And heard the excited yell, “Turtle!”

When they chased it, I chased them.

Years ago in Florida, I donated to the local Turtle Patrol. In return, my aunt and I “adopted” nests. I sang to my eggs, visited daily, and cleared away obstacles between them and the sea. At night, I checked for predators (crabs, ants, raccoons). Despite all this, many did not live. The loggerhead nest had been relocated under a bright streetlight and they got disoriented when they crawled up out of the sand. They could not find the ocean.

But when the remaining eggs were excavated a few days later, more than 80 babies emerged and began their determined march to the sea. My heart was so full and proud. “Go go go! May you be free and wild and happy!” Sometimes I gently put a foot down to keep one from going in the wrong direction. “No, no, sweetheart. Thataway.”

Perhaps I was putting my foot down with the turtle-chasing girls last week. I probably startled them, and I guess I wanted to. I sat on that log a long time, but never saw them again. Was I going to explain in a gentler tone? Talk about turtle social distance?

At the same beach a few months ago, a larger turtle had crawled onshore. A guy my age was worried about it. I took a look and reassured him. “That’s normal, she’s resting. But you need to stay fifteen feet away.”

“Because?” he asked.

“The law,” I said, and walked away. Hawaiian law (and Florida law, as well as the federal Endangered Species Act) protects sea turtles. So what am I, turtle patrol?


Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings head for sea, Flagler Beach FL USA 2019
Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings heading for sea, Flagler Beach FL USA 2019




One response to “Turtle Patrol”

  1. Auntie Avatar

    I so remember that day on Flagler Beach.Amazing! And so wonderful that you care.

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