Humans are social beings. They need other people to feel good about their lives. Whether it's family, co-workers, sports competitors, travel or shopping, the list is endless as to how humans seek comfort and encouragement from others. Today the world faces something very different. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to face isolation, head-on. The majority of states in the country have imposed a 'shelter in place' regimen for us. While this is against our nature, perhaps we can learn about self-isolation from the oldest creatures on the planet — the solitary sea turtles.
As Old as Dinosaurs
The earliest marine creatures — we call sea turtles — are believed to have appeared during the Jurassic period, but it wasn't until the Cretaceous period 100 million years ago that sea turtles began to evolve. Prehistoric turtles coexisted with dinosaurs until they went extinct 65 million years ago. So, in my mind, I think of sea turtles as our planet's oldest living dinosaurs.
The Lost Years
Sea turtles are described by Our State's contributor Eleanor Spicer Rice as those who "soar like birds," and "sink deep into the black shadows." It is within the "ocean's teeming waters, sea turtles spend most of their lives, keeping their world a secret from us."
However, we do know quite a bit about their births, slowing breaking through their leathery Ping-Pong-ball-size eggs to get to shore's edge — to get the beginning of their solitary life. We also know about their returns — most often to same ashore years later — as full-grown mama turtles. But like Spicer Rice notes, "what do turtles do during their decades abroad."
Kate Mansfield, sea turtle biologist and assistant professor at the University of Central Florida says “We know very little about their time in the lost years — where they go and what they do.”
Ode to the Mamma Loggerhead
As a Hunting Island sea turtle volunteer in South Carolina, I assist yearly in protecting loggerhead nests on the shore of this expansive beach. In 2017, I composed this poem to capsulize Mama Loggerhead's magical birth cycle.
Ode to the Mamma Loggerhead
By Ron Callari
Traversing the mighty millennial seas,
Advancing from a prehistoric slumber,
Departing yesteryears, she flees,
Precious cargo to number.
Instincts honed, target coincided.
Her solemn gait measured . . . the Crawl,
Longitudinally guided. Latitudinally abided.
Digging deep for the nest of nightfall,
Her trance of purpose is her design,
Breeding loggerheads, its next nation.
She covers. She turns. She resigns.
The sea beckons her homeward,
Until the next ovulation.
Male Turtles vs Female Turtles
After males break through their shells [at the 45th-60th day mark] and make it to the ocean, they never set their flippers on land again. On the flip-side, mature mamma turtles return home [or very close to home] where they lay their eggs [on average 100-150] to repeat the cycle, noted in the ode above.
To understand these turtles’ lost years of isolation, Mansfield fastens tiny trackers on the backs of loggerheads and watches as each turtle takes its own path across the oceans of the world. “There’s a lot we don’t know,” Mansfield says. “What we do know is that turtles are individuals.”
Solitude, not Loneliness
Perhaps we can learn from these dinosaurs that persist to exist in solitude. The mere fact they can live as long as 150 years (in some cases) says to me that their instincts are spot-on. As excellent sailors, mature female sea turtles target their male counterparts to spawn. Sea turtle eggs have an incubation period of about two months. They then reach home-base usually under a full moon to dig their nests and lay their eggs — giving their hatchlings their shot at surviving their own solo life journeys.
Solitude doesn't equate to loneliness. After all, don't humans who create, seek out solitude for inspiration?
What we can learn from these solitary creatures is to slow down and appreciate what Earth has provided us -- the sky, the oceans, the gravitational pull of the moon and its effect on tidewaters. They've taught us not to take this beauty for granted.
We should all consider taking a page out of the sea turtles' playbook during our time in solitary. Claire Trickett writes that sea turtles live "an admirable and solitary life" where "their instincts are second to none and their determination is fierce." Here are ten of the sea turtles life lessons to live life to the fullest in isolation.
- Follow your instinct
- Swim with the current
- Travel at your own pace
- Enjoy time alone
- Slow and steady wins the race
- Don’t give up hope
- Keep a hard shell
- Come up for air
- Never forget where you came from
- Spend more time on the beach
Practice these life lessons daily, and I guarantee you'll learn to appreciate this special quietness, and will stop feeling lonely before you know it.
Primary Source: Our State