After the turtle finished digging, she stopped moving.
‘Is she ok?’ whispered Shona.
I stared at her. Hmmm. Was she? Was she resting? Asleep?
We crouched to the side of her. It was still dark enough we needed our red torchlight. The red bathed everything strangely. Even the beach crabs stood motionless. Meanwhile, the turtle’s shell was covered in sand. She’d kicked it onto her back while digging her hole.
She lay directly over her dug-out hole too. You couldn’t see it. As we stared at her back end, the only thing which moved was the very tips of her amazingly dexterous back flippers. Every once in a while, they flexed at the tips. It reminded me of having cramp in my toes, and having to stretch them out.
We moved around to her head. Alongside the flipper flex, her head also moved. She gulped too. Like she was head-bobbing and gulping along to a slow-song.
I managed to catch a gap under her body. Sure enough, with each flipper flex/head bob-gulp she released a little ping-pong-sized egg. This was her turtle push.
It is estimated hawkbill turtles lay around 130 eggs per clutch. They lay 3-5 clutches every two weeks. After they’re finished nesting, they’ll return to their normal, feeding ground. Scientists have tracked their home ground up to a thousand miles away from their nesting beach.
This meant this was the beach the turtle herself was born on. She might not take part in her children’s care, but she was still giving them a bond. A geographical bond. They would share this beach. The female turtles would come back. Dig the same sand their mother had dug up.
By the time our Mama Turtle had flexed her flippers around 130 times, the sky was lightening. Dawn had arrived. Our turtle had gone from being red under our torch beams to turtle colour. Brown and greenish. She’d finished flexing and started to cover her hole.
This part was painful to watch. It was like not helping someone tidy the house. Someone who couldn’t walk.
‘Should I help her fill it in?’ I said to Shona, gesturing to the sand pile next to the turtle.
‘No!’ Shona hissed.
I did reach out and pick out a twig from her flipper though. That amazing flipper.
The turtle began to pat the nest down. She seemed to move herself from side-to-side with a frustrated resignation that she didn’t belong on land. Then I realised I was underestimating her.
Once again, her back flippers were doing wonderful work. They were patting down the sand with expert, slapping moves. A proper sand packer.
A man came along for his morning beach walk. He stopped and told me he’d seen a turtle in this spot a week before, also laying. As I was talking to him, I missed Mama Turtle heave herself down the little sand bank she must have climbed up earlier. Shona was leaning next to her, smiling.
It’s said that hawksbills are unique by not dragging themselves on land, but by ‘walking’ with alternating flippers on the sand. Here go those brilliant flippers again.
And boy, did she prove it. She was faster than we could have imagined. She rushed off towards the sea.