I’m laying on my stomach in the sand, arms outstretched, reaching and catching a leatherback’s eggs as she lays them. The power is out on the entire island, so I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. The whole moment is so breathtaking that it seems unreal to me.. Here I am, after just seeing a leatherback for the first time, trying not to drop any eggs in the sand and trying not to fall into the deep hole that she dug too close to the water; it’s a tricky balance in the dark.
This is how I start my Sunday, at 1:00 in the morning.
The turtle people tell me that she put her nest too close to the water and that the hatchlings wouldn’t survive in this spot, so we’d need to help her relocate them. I realize that this is conservation in practice, and I love that I’m able to be a part of it. We see 4 or 5 turtles nesting that morning, take long patrol walks throughout the shift (I’m convinced our soft-sanded beach patrols on this trip gave me killer calf muscles) and head home at about 2:30 am. I don’t go to sleep until 3:00, and then I wake up around 8:00. The beds at the cottages are so unbelievably comfortable, so it was momentarily hard to pull myself from mine, until I remembered what was waiting outside for me.. Matthew and Kelly told us we’d leave at 10:00 am for a hike, so my roommates and I made coffee and oatmeal and ate out in the chairs by the ocean. It was almost too lovely to believe.
We left and drove to the Northwest part of St. Croix where we went on a hike with a pretty steep incline, finding an old lighthouse at the top and a killer view of the ocean and surrounding mountains. We all gather at the top to take in the view, and I have a moment of overwhelming gratitude that I’m in this place, with these people, seeing this beautiful spot where sea and sky and mountains meet..
We head back down the trail together, drive back to the cottages and are set free for a couple of hours before dinner. My roommates and I immediately throw on our suits and head to the ocean to cool off and enjoy the water. We swim for an hour or so, and then read our textbooks (as diligently as we can on a tropical beach) and discuss our turtle adventures thus far.
We all gather to eat dinner, then head to the Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge Center to hear a lecture by the charismatic park ranger, Mike, who told us all about the refuge in his 25 years of working there. After the lecture, we all head back to the cottages, while the next group of night-patrollers stay at the station in preparation for their long night. Both of my roommates are night patrollers tonight, so I’m all alone for the evening. I take my textbook out to the warm beach and find a chair to read my assigned chapter about turtle “head-starting”, finishing that and then getting to stargaze. The stars aren’t as bright as the night before, but there is not a complaint in my entire body. I love this trip and the amazing biologists that I’ve met and I already don’t want it to end.