Elegance is overrated
photo by Martijn Hammers
Grace and elegance are two words that I generally wouldn’t associate with myself. Bish, bash, bosh is a more accurate description of my approach to life. The finesse may not always be there, but the job gets done. I’m efficient, but I’ll get dirt under my fingernails and probably spill something down my T-shirt in the process.
The first time I saw a hawksbill turtle, golden and shiny, emerging from the sea then haul herself over fifteen metres up the beach, I thought, that girl’s got my style. I mean, these turtles ooze class and grace in the water, cruising around the turquoise waters of the West Indian Ocean with the ease of a figure skater. But spit them out onto a shell-speckled beach and their glamour resembles many individuals on the streets of Newcastle at about 3am on a Sunday morning, minus the fake tan.
Sometimes turtles fall over trying to get back to sea. When this happens they cannot right themselves so we give them a hand
Taking a step back from the situation though, it truly is bizarre. This scene has been repeated across the globe for hundreds of thousands of years. Turtles have hardly changed since the Mesozoic era, they were probably going through the same motions when dinosaurs were roaming the earth, and since then they’ve hardly changed. The perfect design. Perfection doesn’t always mean grace. Returning to efficiency, these females have an epic sense of direction. Epic with a capital E. Hatching here at least 25 or even 50 years ago, they are able to find their way back to EXACTLY the same beach to lay their own eggs, not just once but for the rest of their life. And someone thought we invented SatNav.
However, these ladies are gluttons for punishment. After dragging their 50kg bodies up the beach, it is straight to work. Now, the technique of nest digging from a distance looks pretty straightforward. Basic. Dog-like, but with hind legs. On closer inspection this is not the case, and took me about 2 weeks to realise that behind every woman is an amazing set of legs. The whole scooping and flicking technique is so precise and so carefully done and with such clumsy looking limbs.
I feel like nest-digging with flippers is like trying to text on an iphone with mittens on, just futile and frustrating. But the dexterity they display is the most impressive I’ve seen. Even after laying, the nest covering and disguising is so precise and thorough. Gently patting and spreading the sand as softly as a masseuse then camouflaging the area as though they are flouring a worktop to roll out pastry. No patches are left to chance.
The hawksbill turtle heads straight back to sea after laying her eggs and covering the nest
Then there is no hanging around, no admiration of the task accomplished, no basking in achievement. These girls are tough cookies. One last flick of sand for good luck and they’re off. Back down to the sea without a backward glance as if there is some magnetic force pulling them back to the deep.
However you look at it these turtles are hardy. If they were personified they’d be the boiler-suit clad women in the world war two poster: bicep bared for all to see, ready for the world, with the slogan WE CAN DO IT. Join the cause ladies, your species needs YOU!
by Catherine McNicol (Turtle team volunteer)