CCC Research Participant Finds Solace in Memory of Tortuguero’s Sea Turtles

Fall 2001 Issue Articles:

* CCC Research Participant Finds Solace in Memory of Tortuguero’s Sea Turtles
* Turtles Tracked by Satellites Thanks to Some Help From Their Friends

Next Issue
Previous Issue

CCC Research Participant Finds Solace in Memory of Tortuguero’s Sea Turtles

By Lindsay Brown, 2001 Green Turtle Participant

July 30, 2001 Journal Entry:
I lay there in the sand, on my stomach, with my hand carefully waiting under a sea turtle. She is about to release eggs into her egg chamber. It took her about half an hour to create the body pit she is settled into and the foot deep egg chamber in which her eggs will spend the next eight weeks. Hopefully. I am still thinking about the absolute grace with which this 300 pound creature dug the egg chamber, patiently using one flipper at a time as a shovel and a hand, taking small piles of dirt and gently setting them aside to create the protective hole for her offspring. Just as I am marveling about the patience and fluidity of her movements, she begins to contract, and I feel the first egg cascade down my hand. I quickly click the counter in my other hand, and a thrill surges through me as she drops two more almost simultaneously. Then one. Then three. Then two. Then two more. Then one. It goes on like this for twenty minutes, my left hand continuing to click the counter each time, as my right hand is covered in antibacterial birthing fluid the turtle each egg has left with me. An organic, pure smell surrounds me at this point, and I cannot identify what it reminds me of; perhaps dirt in the rain, or perhaps a subtly wet dog. But I do know that my hand is gooey, I am at the rear end of a 300 pound wild creature, and I have never felt so giddy in my entire life. I am witnessing her lay her eggs.

August 3, 2001 Journal Entry:
During the day, my body is on a different clock, where minutes are stretched and I can enjoy the little things in life, like closing my eyes and feeling the breeze softly greet me, or watching two crabs dance and challenge each other as though in a boxing ring. Then I can follow butterflies and leaf-cutter ants along their paths, taking time to observe and care about them. So many creatures are here to enjoy, to follow, and to wonder at. And two weeks after this amazing stay in the tropics, measuring turtles, feeling fins flap and slap against me egg chambers were camouflaged and the turtles moved back towards the sea, accounted for and tagged in the CCC logs, I will be back in the concrete jungle of NYC, only this time in law school. Aaaaaaaargh.

After leaving Costa Rica, I returned to the concrete jungle of Manhattan to begin law school. Coming back to people-lined streets instead of butterfly -lined trails, I anticipated mild culture shock. But one month later, I was farther than I ever expected to be from the paradise of Tortuguero. On the morning of September 11, 2001watching the World Trade Center fall, I barely breathed between sobs. Then the Pentagon was in flames, and the plane in Pennsylvania downed. I constantly cried, shaking and nauseous during the agonizing hours awaiting word that my father and brother, both within hundreds of feet of the WTC, were okay. I looked at each image on television, knowing each blown building and street intimately from my previous year of living five blocks from the WTC. The world, as beautiful and promising as it seemed just hours before, had suddenly taken on a fate decreed by incomprehensible evil.

Red-eyed tree frogs can be seen around the CCC field station in Tortuguero.

For weeks on end, trepidation and fear tainted every step and sadness tempered every waking moment; I needed an escape. My first relief was when I developed a roll of film. The first three pictures, from my early August trip to the CCC as a research participant, were of a brilliant lime green frog with an electrically royal blue underbelly, orange feet and fiery eyes. The frog pictures opened the floodgate of memories, so I closed my eyes and relived life at the CCC.

Walking the beaches of Tortuguero at 3 a.m., it is dark except when the clouds allow the moon to shine; water laps at my heels, stars twinkle overhead and turtle tracks and nests surround me. I look at the world with immense wonder while feeling as insignificant as a grain of sand. The balmy breezes relax my soul and the ocean sounds lull me to a pace that detoxifies my urban body and mind.

The beauty of the 300-pound turtles moves me to new understandings. They journey through the very same oceans that sustain humanity, and through strength born of instinct, they return to a certain spot each nesting season to give new life. As one life is inexorably intertwined with the next, beyond borders, ecosystems or species, their journey teaches of human possibility, instinct and resiliency. An affirmation of life overcomes my soul as my body and mind swell. I know what it is to be alive and a significant part of this earth, just like that unique grain of sand that makes the beach so completely exquisite.

Three short months ago I walked the beaches of Tortuguero, night after night, admiring the wild splendor of the earth. I will continue to return to my memories of this splendor as a source of peace, understanding and hope. With the ruthless darkness and uncertainty of late, it is reassuring to think back on the mysterious ocean, the guiding sky and those amazingly purposeful turtles and know that paradise is not lost.

Perhaps most comforting of all is the knowledge that the CCC is there to make sure it never will be.