The road stretches out as straight as an arrow for miles paralleling the beach. The day is as fine as a dream, and the beach access parking areas are filling up with visitors.
Amidst the traffic, we spot a lone turtle crossing the road. As each car whizzes by, he retracts his head and legs into his carapace. Once the cyclone of sand and exhaust settles, he thrusts his head and legs from his shell and resumes his laborious excursion across the road. Where is he going?
Most drivers seem too intent on their destination to notice the little guy.
Though this is a land turtle, we are in one of the most important breeding areas for a number of species of sea turtles.
The loggerhead is the turtle most common in this area. From May to October, female turtles come ashore, returning to the place of their birth, to dig a hole between 16 – 20 inches deep into which she lays approximately 100 golf ball size eggs. Once she backfills her nest, she returns to the water.
She may return several more times in a single season to lay another clutch of eggs, leaving the eggs beneath the sand, unattended.
After two months of incubation, the tiny turtles break open the soft shells with their snouts, use their brand new legs to dig out of their hole, and, en masse, instinctively head for the sea.
Once the little creatures reach the Gulf waters, they are swept up in the current and often live in the relative protection of floating beds of seaweed that provide their nourishment.
It will be several decades before they are old enough to breed.
Many obstacles are in their path.
In the North, we are reminded every year of their treacherous race from their birthing hole to the water. Instinctively they aim for the brightest horizon but with development along the coastal beaches, the artificial illumination, sometimes confuses them. Many Floridians are aware of the turtles challenges and protect the nesting areas by erecting barriers and reducing their illumination during prime incubation periods.
But the turtles journey has only just begun.
Supposedly only one in 100 will survive to adulthood.
Besides natural predators, turtles are threatened by pollution, global warming, loss of habitat from coastal development, and fishing.
In the miraculous circle of life, the nutrients dissolved in the sand where the eggs are laid, strengthen the health of the beach grasses and dune vegetation.
One more thread of life that keeps the whole world spinning.