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A Memory of a Midnight Beach: Why Anna Smiles in the Hospital

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5 min read
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Anna is still in hospital, recovering. He was on oxygen for 5 days and on IV fluids for 12 days. If he eats enough to give him adequate calories and nutrition, we should be able to take him home in a few days.

Over these 15 days, there have been ups and downs. Downs were when I thought he would not survive, and ups when he grunted responses or slurped liquefied food hungrily.

And through it all, the thing I remember the most is – turtle watching. Turtle watching! I don’t know why. When I tell Anna I have been thinking of Turtle Watching, he smiles, remembering a fond family outing, but says nothing.

When I tell Anna I have been thinking of Turtle Watching, he smiles, remembering a fond family outing, but says nothing. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
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The Magic of Turtle Watching

Trinidad and Tobago hosts the second largest population of leatherback turtles, supporting over 80% of sea turtle nesting in the Caribbean region. Grande Riviere Beach is one of the world’s most renowned and intensive nesting sites.

The largest of all living turtles, these ancient marine creatures have been swimming our oceans for over 100 million years. They visit Trinidad and Tobago’s shores from March to August every year to lay their eggs.

I don’t remember how old the four-of-us-siblings were when Anna first took us Turtle Watching. I remember that we were told that we needed to stay up late into the night – on a full moon night – to go to the beach! Two beautiful exciting things happening at the same time had us all excited – going to the beach, and being allowed to stay up late. There was nary a protest when we were sent upstairs to have a long nap after lunch. Any hardship was worth a late night beach trip.

After what seemed to be a long walk, Anna stopped and asked us to hide behind a long sand dune that ran parallel to the waves. (Photo: iStock)

After dinner, we dressed in long pants and long-sleeved shirts. To go to the beach nonetheless! We didn’t protest – the outing was too precious to be lost by bickering over what clothes we wanted to wear.

Anna drove us in our sky blue Volkswagen Beatle to a beach, somewhere on the east coast of Trinidad.

Anna does not remember the name of the beach (and neither do I!) We parked the car far away from the sand and followed the guide in single file. After what seemed to be a long walk, he stopped and asked us to hide behind a long sand dune that ran parallel to the waves. We lay in makarasana, peering over the sand, watching the moonstone- sparkling waves, waiting for something exciting to happen.

Of New Births & New Mothers

At first it looked like large dark boulders waddling up the sand. As they came closer we saw small necks, topped by a head, sticking out in front of gigantic shells. When they reached the bottom of the dune, they slowly turned to face the waves. Little fountain spurts of sand told us that the turtles were using their rear flippers to dig a nest-hole. It was only after the digging stopped that we were allowed to move stealthily towards them to watch as they laid their eggs in the nest-hole.

We watched as they laid their eggs in the nest-hole. (Photo: iStock)
As these huge mama turtles laid their wet eggs, they cried. Tears that cleared their eyes and cheeks of sand. Watching them cry made me sad. Being allowed to lightly stroke their backs and pat them seemed to comfort me and I imagined that it comforted them too. And though we were safe, we were asked not to make any loud noises or sudden movements out of respect for these ancient creatures and their nesting ritual.

When they’re done, they shovel sand over their egg-loaded nests, and pat the sand so that an untrained eye cannot make out that there is a nest, safely tucked underneath. They then slowly walk back into the sea, without a backward glance at their future babies, who will hatch far away from their mothers’ eyes.

Two to three months later, on another full moon night, Anna took us back to the beach. We again hid in makarasana behind the dunes and watched the sand with peeled eyes.

Unerringly, they turned to face the sea and crawled their way towards the waves.... (Photo: iStock)

At first, the sand seemed to give a twitch here and there. The twitch changed to a shiver. And from little fault lines in the sand a few tiny heads and flippers appeared. Then, the sand over the nest began to look like it was boiling – and lots of little baby turtles came tumbling forward.

Unerringly, they turned to face the sea and crawled their way towards the waves....

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Leatherback turtles are classified as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Trinidad and Tobago’s shores support a large accessible nesting population of these turtles in various locations.

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(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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