The mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles on Costa Rica’s Playa de Ostional has been featured on many a television documentary. If it seems extraordinary from the lounge chair, then that feeling only multiplies when being amongst hundreds of matriarchs all vying for a spot on the beach to continue the cycle of life.
There is little doubt that anyone who witnesses turtle nesting gets something from it, no matter how little. And it really varies from individual to individual. In looking at visitors’ memories of wildlife tourism, Ballantyne et al (2011: 773) document the following experience of “TV” who went to Australia’s Mon Repos:
The lump-in-the-throat experience of seeing these huge turtles lumbering out to sea after depositing the eggs, the baby turtles emerging from their sand home and going out to the wide unknown world of predators and hopefully survival, the majestic way they went slowly back to the sea…A sense of privilege at seeing the baby turtles burrow out of the sand and head for the sea as possibly one of only a very few humans ever to see these turtles. Overall, the sense of privilege and awe will stay with me. (TV)
And that powerful experience can subsequently be transformed into future actions aimed at safeguarding the welfare of the species:
…I was shocked that some of their [Asian country] gorgeous beaches (where the turtles come up to lay) were covered in plastic bags and rubbish! So me and a friend spent hours cleaning bags in an effort to prevent the local turtles from possibly ingesting them. (TV) (Ballantyne et al 2011: 776).
But back to Ostional, I personally took away many lessons from that visit. One of these was documented in a previous post – The Energizing Effect. Much of it centred around the fact that I had been going through a bit of inner turmoil prior and during this holiday. I had been intensely struggling with various things and was feeling emotionally depleted. This entire experience had such an uplifting effect.
One thing that emerged in lucid clarity was that sense of ‘pushing on’ relentlessly and unquestioningly, even throughout the struggles and barriers. These female turtles epitomized that with their sustained efforts. That primal urge to create, to bring new life, to do what is instinctively as part of the genetic (or grand) design overrides any human type of ego sense of “What if I die doing this? What if I fail? What is in it for me?” They just do it, because that is what they are urged to do. And then to be finally laying all those eggs, only to see vultures, crows and people preying on the eggs at the same time – whilst in that moment of birthing….I mean wouldn’t you just want to give up with a “screw this” mentality? One wonders what their awareness is of the situation around them: are they Buddhist or Zen masters of non-attachment to outcome?
Then seeing the young hatchlings just go for it in that mad instinctive scramble to the water – despite a myriad of dangers the moment their heads pop out of the sand – puts many things into perspective. What does that little hatchling think and feel when, after only 2 minutes of life, it is scooped up by the bird of prey?
One realizes that most of us are fortunate to have life pretty good, with little threat to our moment-to-moment survival. One gains awareness that our problems (and our reaction to perceived problems) are self-created and not nearly as immense as the threat to one’s survival. But even if one’s survival was under threat, there may comes an acceptance of it all being part of that huge never-ending cycle of life and death, beginnings and endings – change – the essence of all that is.
The other significant learning experience was watching the local community harvest the turtle eggs and to reflect on that in terms of both ethics, reactionary emotion and sustainable community-based management. So, for sure, powerful nature events like this hold up a mirror to one’s self and invite unparalleled introspection.