I’m awake at 6:30 a.m. and there’s not a starting line in sight. That’s unusual.
Mo and I are at the Padre Island National Seashore to cheer some babies starting an adventure. About 80 or so Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are being released. It’s a big deal around these parts, because they’re an endangered species and the guys here are fighting the odds to help them survive.
The numbers are against them. According to National Geographic (and who’s going to doubt National Geographic?) a 1947 amateur film showed some 40,000 female turtles nesting in Mexico in a single day. Today, it is estimated that only about 1,000 breeding females exist worldwide. That is not good news.
The guys here find the nests on the beach, keep the kids until they have a fighting chance, and then send them into the wild.
The event is pretty low-key. Six or seven volunteers hold poles to support a net to keep the gulls from having an early breakfast. With no fanfare, a ranger opens the first of three styrofoam coolers and starts setting the little guys out. Their job: Kick in the instincts and key on the white foam of the water to move into their new home.
Soon, the 80 little guys are all in the sand, and it looks a lot like a fat-ass race. No fees, no shirt, no support. They’re on their own. A few of them sprint toward the water. Most of them meander about, checking out the neighborhood. A couple just sit there. They must be aware that the race is chip timed, so there’s no particular need for them to burst across the start line.
One by one, they make their way toward the surf. The tide is coming in, so it picks them up and moves them back a little. They are unrelenting, doing their little flipper march toward a new life.
The ranger who took them out of the coolers watches intently. She sits on her knees behind the slowest guy with the look of a mother sending her kids off to first grade. What must it be like to nurse them from hatchlings up to the point of sending them to almost certain death. I think Mo said that 1 in 1,000 will survive. So much work by so many people in such a futile effort to save a species. But what else can you do?
Finally, the last little guy makes it into the water, and the show’s over. The barriers come down, Mo takes one last look at the tiny tracks, and we head home.
Later in the day, I’m running on the hamster wheel. It all seems so futile, running this slowly. But I think of that last turtle. Who knows? Maybe he’s the 1 in 1,000 that makes it.
You can’t think about the odds when you run; you just have to jump in the water and hope for the best …