On Turtles and Joy

Two days ago Sandy & I found ourselves travelling by speedboat to Selingan Island, a tiny island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo, famed for its turtles. We had just come from a night in Sandakan’s rainforest. There it was beautiful but I felt like an outsider. Here on the open water, with the buzz of an outboard in my ears and the salt spray across my face, I was right at home.

Selingan Island was breathtaking. Sandy shores, surrounded by a coral reef alive with fish of dazzling colours. Snorkelling in these warm waters was exhilarating. Lying on the beach afterward a large monitor poked it’s way past us, tongue flickering, searching for a meal of turtle eggs.

But it was the evening where the excitement really lay. Every night sea turtles up to a metre long and a hundred years in age land on Seligan island, haul their massive hulk across the sand, dig nests over a metre in diameter and 70 centimetres deep and lay up to 150 eggs. Rangers scour the beach and when one of these turtles is found a small group of us are invited to go watch. By dim torchlight we see 64 eggs dropped into the nest. They look like shiny, wet table tennis balls. It’s quite thrilling to watch.

turtles on seligan island
Photo by Marcio Scatrut

We leave the mother to cover the nest and make her way back to the sea.  It’s now time to see baby turtles that have hatched that day make their way into the ocean. Barely a few centimetres long they head to the sea, hauling their tiny bodies across the beach, the slightest indentations becoming sand mountains they have to climb. Once they hit the water they swim with astonishing speed. They are vulnerable, cute and very entertaining. I am wonderstruck by the fact that they know to head down the beach and swim into the ocean. How do they know to do this? When they get into the ocean they’re pretty much on their own. How do they know where to go? What to eat? What is dangerous and what’s not?

Psalm 104 says

How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small…
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works

I feel that two days ago on Seligan island I was caught up in the exultant joy of the psalmist; that if God indeed does rejoice in his works, that on that island I shared in God’s rejoicing. It was a wonderful experience.

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