The Responsibility of Youth
It was midnight and very dark on the beach. Although the moon was full, it was behind a massive amount of clouds that were directly above the seashore and extending out over the ocean. Further inland the clouds were broken with their presence revealed by the lights of the city several miles away. The female Leatherback sea turtle had come up for air just feet offshore to take in the activity on the beach and to determine where she would place her eggs. Her task was to go some distance beyond the water line to dig a hole with her front flippers in which to lay her 100+ eggs. There was no foreseeable obstacle for this massive 1,900 lbs (YES! 1,900 lbs.) reptile that could prevent her from completing her task, as she had done several times each year for most of her 40 years. Once buried, 80% or so eggs that were fertile would remain there for up to 65 days prior to the ‘hatchings’ breaking through their shells and surfacing to begin their lives. Instinctively, the hatchings knew that once they surfaced from the nest, they needed to head directly for the water for survival, but without any protection from predators such as racoons, dogs, and birds. That was their first responsibility. The sad truth is that on the average, 10% would not make it to the water where even more fish predators existed.
All but two of the hatchings had surfaced from the nest in the first 10 minutes. For the seagulls waiting above, it was easy to snatch a hatching and then fly away. However, the last two had been at the very bottom of the pile of buried eggs and were delayed significantly in emerging from the nest. They had to struggle to seek the daylight that was barely noticeable given the multitude of broken shell pieces above them. Finally, they had reached the surface and began to add their tracks to the multitudes that preceded them. However, before they could progress very far, their journey was cut short – but providing for their survival as it turned out.
It was still early in the morning, and the clouds had cleared both over the ocean and inland. A family of 4 with a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter had arrived at this part of the beach that was rarely visited. To access this beach, one had to cross over several dunes between the beach and the parking lot a fair distance inland. The family had been to this particular beach many times in the past favoring its exclusivity. However, this was the first time that they would encounter an experience that would be well remembered by the youth for years. While the parents were placing the mats and setting up two umbrellas for shade, the children were quick to the shoreline to test the water. Suddenly, 2 Navy jets flew by on maneuvers common to that area. Looking up, the father noticed a group of seagulls circling and swooping over part of the shoreline several hundred yards away. Having grown up in that area, he was certain he knew what was happening. Immediately, he dropped the umbrella that he was setting up and yelled to the children (now wading in the water) to follow him … “and hurry!” Within minutes the father was standing over the 2 late hatchings that were now scratching their way to the water, still 40 feet away. The seagulls were aggressively circling and randomly diving towards the sand then veering off. The 2 children were at their Dad’s side within minutes. The father immediately cautioned them to not inhibit the progression of the hatchings as he briefly explained what was taking place, including the threat of the birds above. Sis placed both hands to her cheeks with “Daddy, can’t we save them?” followed by the son, “Dad, can we take them home? … plllleeeeaaaasssseeee?” The father did not respond immediately. By now Mom had arrived, and Dad told her of the son’s request. In her way of signaling her husband of approval without saying so, the father said that they indeed could take the 2 hatchings home. BUT, there were a number of rules that each of them would have to follow that included basic care, feeding, and personal handling. Lastly, he stated that at the end of 4 months, the turtles would be returned to the sea. Both children agreed readily shaking their heads excitedly. Sis was sent back to their beach location to obtain a small container that had been meant to share the sandwiches at lunch. Upon her return, each child decided the name for his/her turtle as the selection was placed in the container now filled with some sand. The son named his hatching “Snout” and gingerly placed the turtle in his left palm to transfer the turtle to the container. As Sis picked the hatching up by the two opposing edges of its shell, she said “Welcome to our family “Princess”. The father quickly noted “Only! for 4 months kids.“ “Yes Daddy” Sis said begrudgingly.
They returned to their beach location with Mom carrying the container. Once there, Dad placed a towel loosely over the container to ensure that the few circling seagulls would not attempt to swoop down and snatch the hatchings from the container. The family spent the next 6 hours at the beach with each child taking turns to inspect the hatchings in the container. Not really knowing what the turtles could require as to food and water, several pieces of lettuce as well as a saucer of seawater was placed in the container, as well as keeping the container in the shade of one of the umbrellas.
For the next several weeks, the Mom helped the children research the care of leatherback sea turtles on the internet. Indeed, there were several surprises as to the need for protein from the sea that the turtles required, especially in their early years. What was most astounding for them was that they learned that the turtles could live a half a century and exceed 1,900 lbs. Lastly, was the amazing fact that in the sea the turtles could travel thousands of miles each year to seek their food sources. This information seemed to impress the children as to the potential majesty of these creatures that for now only fit in the palms of their hands.
Once the 4 months were nearly up, the parents discussed in private how to deal with the children as to the return of the turtles to the sea. The solution was quickly agreed to. In the next several days, the father was searching the internet and making a number of calls. Finally, on Wednesday, the father left the house for several hours not taking either child with him, which was very unusual for that family. At dinner that evening the father brought the glass tank, in which the turtles lived, to the center of the dinner table. The father started. “Kids, the 4 months are up with Snout and Princess. It is time to return them to the sea.” Immediately, Sis said “NO! Daddy. Princess is part of our family.” as she began to tear. Mom then interrupted her softly but firmly. “Sis, you agreed to this, and we only took the turtles to save them from the seagulls.” “I don’t care about that Mommy. I love Princess. I want her to stay here with me.” After 4 months, the son had grown somewhat casual as to taking care of Snout and therefore was not so attached; he said nothing. The parents had anticipated the resistance, but their plan was foolproof.
Dinner continued with no further discussion as to returning the turtles. Sis was not hungry, and she simply pushed her green beans around on the plate. Even the mention of lemon meringue pie for desert did not melt her pouting. With all finished with their desert, the father stated that tomorrow they would go to the beach to return the turtles. Sis let out a slight whimper and began to leave the table without asking for permission. “Sis, please take your seat again … you have not been given permission to leave.” her Mom said firmly. Sis did so looking down at her desert plate. At that point, the father removed the glass cage with the turtles to the front room returning with a cardboard box with large holes on all sides. He placed the box in the middle of the table where the turtle cage had been. Sis looked up from her desert plate as she heard scratching noises from inside the box. “Now!, what could be making that noise Kids?” said the Mom. Cautiously, Sis reached for the box as the Father slid it towards her. The son was also very interested at this point and came around to Sis’s side of the table to assist her in opening the box. With the lid removed, up popped two golden, furry paws followed by the head of the Golden Retriever puppy. The glee in Sis’s voice was matched by “WOW!” by the son. There was no holding both of them back by reaching into the box to bring the puppy to the table top. Sis was quick in bringing the puppy to her chest to cuddle with the son anxious for his turn.
The Mom spoke: “You two have demonstrated your responsibility to take care of your turtles for 4 months with little coaching from us. We are very proud of you. Now, we think that you are capable of the responsibly necessary for caring for this puppy…. Now, we need a name for this male dog.” Sis won the toss and she shouted out “Prince!”.
The following day, the family returned to the same beach to release Snout and Princess … and introduce Prince to the sea.