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Turtle Patrol Under the Stars

It's high tide and the sun is turning the sky on the horizon pink. We’re sitting at the beach on one of the most exclusive and picture-perfect islands in the Seychelles, North Island, waiting. The sand is sugar white and forms like a Tempur mattress under our blanket. The bag on our side is prepared with cold beer and snacks in case of a long night. Anticipation is in the air.

As the night falls, stars appear in the clear sky and the moon rises in east. We take turns walking the beach and are sincerely hoping to share the beach and the magic of the night with one of the Green Sea Turtles which come to North Island to nest.

The bright moonlight throws long, distinct palm tree shadows on the beach. In the sky above us we identify Jupiter, Aquarius, Scorpius and Sagittarius, and a shooting star. A meteor shower is expected, although we’ve only seen a few so far. Not only the sky is shimmering. Every step on the beach fills the sand with sparkling diamonds. Luminescent bacteria light up due to movement in the sand, like milky seas effect. Pure magic!

We look closely at the breaking waves, wishing for her to join us. She, who usually dwells in the emerald green ocean. She, who is bound to use her strong flipper to climb the beach a few times every second year. She, who searches the beach for the perfect spot, with the best possible conditions for new life to begin.

We walk the beach every now and then as time passes by. Despite the bright moonlight a dark turtle is hard to see. A few clouds passes by and darken the moon for a while. Suddenly, a dark rock-like thing seems to move in front of us. Can it be a turtle or are we tricked again by another rock? Slowly we move a bit closer and squint our eyes to see better in the dark night. It is moving, right? We move even closer and can finally see her fuzzy contour. Yes! It’s a Green Sea Turtle!

The perfectly beautiful shell shines when the water pours off. Silently we back off and let her have the beach for herself. It takes her about 15 minutes to reach the top of the beach. She disappears behind the palm leaves and the bushes but we can still hear her. Hear how she throws away sand in the search of the perfect spot. It goes on for a while. She works hard, with only short breaks to catch her breath. It gets quiet for a while. Did she stop? No, we can hear how she moves around, looking for a new spot. She starts over again. Several attempts and a few hours later she gives up. Tonight wasn’t her night. She couldn’t find the spot she was looking for and she decides to go back towards the ocean.

We get ready to approach her to take measurements and to see if she is already tagged. If she has the small metal pieces attached to the skin close to her armpits. They do her no harm and there is no risk they will tangle onto something. The tagging let us know whether she is a North Islander. It’s possible that she has been seen and been tagged on some other island. The tagging number and measurements goes into a statistics database and helps the crew on North Island to understand the turtles’ behaviour.

We move closer again. She’s a big girl of approximately 150 kg and it takes three people the hold her still. We don’t want to scare her so we must be very careful. It’s difficult to get the measurements correct while she is moving. When in water she has to surface to breath air. On land, she does the same thing: she relaxes for a moment, lifts her head high and takes a deep breath before she strives towards the ocean again. Her head is only inches from ours and we can feel the pure strength of her body. Absolutely stunning! We take our chance and manage to get the measurements we need before she enters the water. This girl is already tagged so we can quickly let her go.

We back off a few steps a watch the waves rinse the sand of her shell just before the water gets deep enough and she disappears into the dark ocean. Silently we send our best wishes and thank her for letting us share that moment on the beach. She couldn’t fulfil her task this night and we hope to see her soon again.

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