I saw sea turtles on the seashore

I pushed my lawn chair into the sand and sat.

I was part of a small crowd, which had gathered on the beach to witness the aftermath of a seldom-seen spectacle of nature.

The crowd included several small girls, who giggled as they flipped through pamphlets and stared with wide-eyed wonder at a little indention on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

The spot was the only visible sign of sea turtle nest No. 20, which had hatched a few days earlier.

While the crowd watched, trained volunteers dug into the sand below the spot until they reached the chamber of the nest.

They lifted unhatched eggs, broken eggshells and one dead hatchling from the chamber to be recorded before they buried them again.

All of this amazed the group of small girls, and I heard one of them say they’d seen history.

I smiled and thought about how amazed they’d be if they were ever around when one of those nests hatched.

I saw a sea turtle nest hatch once.

It was something I never knew I needed to see, and something I’ll never forget.

It happened by happenstance.

Mama happened to surf a website about sea turtle research, and it happened to list the locations of known nests.

My parents made several trips to the beach to watch the nests hatch, to no avail, before I happened to tag along.

We pushed our lawn chairs into our places in the sand. They faced a small indention in the middle of a square of sand, which the volunteers roped to keep people out of the nest.

We sat for a while and watched the sunset.

When the sky started to darken, the rules were explained to the small crowd of people who stared at the small indention in the sand.

Should the turtles hatch, there was to be no flash photography or white flashlights.

When sea turtles hatch, their instincts pull them toward the brightest light.

If the brightest light comes from the moon, the turtles are more likely to move toward the surf.

Unfiltered flashlights may lead the turtles away from the water and disorient them, thus the reason for the rules.

We waited and waited.

We watched a small indention in the sand on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, and we watched it some more.

Then, some sand moved.

The indention grew, and then it erupted.

A dark mass, which was actually tiny turtles who climed on one another to reach the surface, poured onto the sand in no more than a few blinks.

There must have been 100 of them, and it must have been just a minute before they’d all risen from the nest.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

Once on top of the sand, the turtles started to scoot.

Some of them scooted toward the moonlight on the water. Others scooted in another direction, away from the Gulf, toward the manmade lights atop shoreline hotels and condos.

If the turtles strayed too far from the moonlight, they were herded, collected and taken to a private beach in the hope they’d survive.

I’d guess a year or so passed between the day I saw sea turtles on the seashore and the day I saw a group of small girls stare at an excavated nest.

They thought they’d seen history, and in a way I know they were right.

I also know, when it comes to sea turtles, they haven’t seen anything yet.

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