It was like coming face to face with a live dinosaur or something from another age. Except for the scale of the thing it seemed utterly helpless. The size alone and the heavy breathing made you look around for an escape route off the beach…pronto.
Was it due to the fact that we’d been traveling all evening in a ten-passenger mini-bus crammed with 14 full-sized circumferencially-challenged cruisers cheerfully singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall? Or could it have been the spooky stumbly disorienting trek in the dark, a half mile or so down the beach with a couple dozen red flashlights dancing a light fandango across the sands? I don’t know, but I lack the skill to describe the impact of making my way toward the gathering gaggle of red flashlights on the otherwise pitch black beach and coming face to face with this prehistoric behemoth prostrate while she periodically flicked sand with her ten foot “flipper span.” I’m not sure what this 1400 lb. Leatherback was doing with her rear flippers but it seemed to be working, albeit very slowly.
Two thoughts simultaneously enter my mind: this animal is not designed nor equipped to do this and It’s no wonder it’s on the extremely endangered list.
Earlier that day the staff, patrolling the beach, gathered a dozen or so hatchlings to release during the cover of night because during the day frigate birds eat them like popcorn. It seems that leatherbacks prefer a particular beach profile, kinda low, not too deep with shifting wet compact sands covered with dry sand but this leaves the nest vulnerable to heavy wave action, which Levera beach certainly can have so the staff has to often move nests that are threatened.
So, as I say, I’m face to face or should I say face to butt, thinking about extinction, using proper tools for each task, and holy mother of god look at the size of that thing, all the while planning an escape route outta there, just in case, and suddenly a nearly full moon rises out of the Caribbean Sea bathing the surreal scene in that blue light that Hollywood does so well. Just off the beach was a small perfectly cone shaped island called Sugarloaf. If it were French they’d call it…well you know what the French would call it, but lets just say it was magic…pure magic and indescribably beautiful.
We were encouraged to touch the thing. I felt we’d already imposed enough on a mother’s most intimate moments with 150 of her newest babies but at least I wasn’t sticking my hands down…there catching and counting her eggs as they drop like some poor researcher had to. Maybe she was being punished or did she just lose a bet?
After the mother had rested for a while — they rest frequently — she became quite animated and started beating the sandy beach flippering sand every which way in an attempt to camouflage her nest. Then she huffed and heaved herself in a slow turn and headed slowly lurching toward the sea. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a tiny hatchling in the moonlight on a parallel course. Two creatures, one as big as a Fiat 500, the other smaller than the palm of my hand, both disappeared into the soft ocean waves. Pure poetry.