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Saturday 23 June 2018
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Commentary

Predators are natural too

A young leatherback turtle hatchling instinctively struggles across the Grand Riviere toward the waiting evening ocean on May 31. PHOTO BY NYLA SINGH

Sharda Patasar

Contemplating the state of the world these days, I sat commenting one fine day, on the short-sightedness of the human race and attitudes towards the environment.

Nyla, my photographer go-to partner for run-away days, said, "Well what about if we are necessary? We think of ourselves as humans, but we are really just another organism like any other. So, even though we are supposedly conscious, what if we are just part of this process of destruction and revival?"

Aha! moment.

This is the power of dialogue and it is in this spirit of dialogue, that I write today.

Last week, our family headed up (or down) Grande Riviere for a short vacation. Among the group were the visitors from abroad and so we headed off to see the nesting turtles on the beach. Lucky night and days they were, for we had the good fortune of not only seeing the giant beings, but also hatchlings.

On the second day of our stay, walking along the beach, I almost stepped on a little fellow or gal as it may be, hiding inside the sand. She had been left behind. Not long afterwards, seeing our apparent interest in sand, a crowd gathered around and cameras soon pointed their way towards this tiny discovery. We helped her out of her hole and she soon paddled her way to the sea to the sound of applause, and disappeared. The group soon got distracted by another event further along the beach. I joined them. Huddled around seven hatchlings were children and adults. The hatchlings were being released after a day inside their protective holding in which the authorities had kept them to protect them from predators on the beach. This is normal. If they emerged during the day, the baby turtles were always in danger of dogs or the ever present corbeaux eating them. And so there were holding bays where they would be kept, thrashing around until evening when the predatory dangers were minimal. This was one such evening. The little things however lay on the sand, flippers open like birds trapped in oil. They made very little movement towards the water. Two little boys lined them up like racing cars and when that grew boring, proceeded to place them in a diagonal instead of straight line. Waves came by, washing over those that someone had tried to place closer to the water. They all just sat there as if they were dead. I walked away unable to stand further witness to the plight of the babies.

The beach at the Grande Riviere site slopes so the sand is above my head in a sense. Should you have been walking with me closer to the water, you would have witnessed what looked like a mini avalanche. Tiny dark shapes against the setting sun, moved busily, tumbling down the slope energetic in their race towards the water. It was a completely different experience to the one that I had just left. Beautiful! And I had had the opportunity to witness it alone. Eventually I did call people down, but wondered whether I should have, given their apparent excitement in what seemed to me a rather cruel venture down the beach. But these are the contradictions in our lives.

The night before, the guide had said they didn’t allow people to help the hatchlings to the water. This is because these newborns make mental maps of their route which enable them to return to the beach when they were older, to nest. When we attempt to help them to the water, it disrupts the map making process. Ironically, however, in man’s bid to save them, the course is disrupted by protective bays where the "saved" turtles thrash around to the point of exhaustion. By the evening when released, many of them are too tired to move a flipper. At least this is what it looked like to me. What happens when the water does take them out to sea? Which predators lurk there?

As the saying goes, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," and I think to myself, "Aren’t we too part of that predatory process, holding bays and all, taken into consideration?" Are we not disrupting a natural flow? But then, aren’t we too just another set of organisms in this chain of events. We assume that our humanness places us some notch above. But what if that’s not the case? We assume holding bays are the right thing but this is like us attempting to change the fate that the Oracle had predicted and in avoiding it, we create the very destiny we were attempting to escape. When one thinks of it, it is amusing, this arrogance we all share. But such are the paradoxes of life.

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