In the dead of night, the female hauls herself from the sea. She is following the ancient tracks. For 130 million years, her maternal forebears have visited this beach; she hatched here herself. Now she does her bit for her endangered species.
She crawls away from the shoreline, looking for a likely place in the dunes. Then she digs, her hind flappers tunneling into the white sand. Into the hole, she lays her eggs. Dozens of babies, few of which will survive into adulthood. She buries them, then she returns to the ocean depths once more.
Beneath the sand the eggs lie hidden. Protecting their precious contents; which are nurtured and grow, quietly out of view. They are so vunerable. So much in their environment affects their chances of survival. A disturbed nest will kill them outright, even if a predator never finds their actual egg.
The heat of the sand has a sliding scale of worth. If it grows too cold, they will never hatch and die. If it remains at a normal, shaded Tropical temperature, then they will become males. If the sand heats up, in the full glare of the sun, they will become females. If it over-heats, then they will cook in their shells. Four fates await, based on the temperature alone.
Then, a month or two after they were laid, every hatchling emerges during a short period of time. They burrow their way to the surface and kick off the last of their encrusted shells. Then it's the perilous scurry towards the ocean and a frantic plunging into the sea. The birds above are watching, swooping down to feast. The infants' future is fair from certain. Many creatures out there love a snack of baby sea turtle. The majority won't make it. Only one in 4,000 will. But those that do will return in around 30 years time, to mate or lay their own eggs. Thus the cycle of life goes on.
We've spoken here about sea turtles before ("Sea turtles, mate"), but, as we enter the new breeding season, it's worth the repetition. They are an endangered species, hence they need all of the help we can give them, in terms of awareness.
May through to October is sea turtle breeding season. Upon any beach, in the Mexican Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, the rare and awesome sight of a mother sea turtle crawling up the sands may be witnessed. Conservationists are desperately trying to keep this species going, so you may also see sticks poking out of the sand. If you do, then leave it will alone. It will be marking a nest and has been placed there to alert those passing by.
Also many hotels and other coastal companies may play their part. Some actively protect the nests within their land, collecting hatchlings and keeping them safe within shallow pools. These will then be released, en masse, directly into the ocean. It cuts out one more dangerous step, the rush from nest to sea, for the little ones.
A few final tips:
* If you are waiting at night on the beach, please try to keep bright lights shielded. (Sea turtles, looking for a nest, will navigate by it and collide with you - these are big creatures!) If you can see your shadow on the sand, then it's too bright.
* If you see a sea turtle emerging from the ocean, do not interrupt it. It will frighten easily and might not nest at all. Just stay very quiet and observe. Above all, do not use flash photography. (See above note on bright lights and add to it how startled mothers = not nesting mothers.)
* If you see a stick in the sand, leave it there and try not to be too loud in the vicinity.
And long live the sea turtles!