Tuesday, November 28, 2023 | Jumada al-ula 13, 1445 H
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The Turtle’s Odyssey: A consevationist weeps, Shakespeare writes, and King Lear speaks!


No matter how long you will live, once you have been drawn into the web of the triumph and tragedy that is the story of any of the varieties of the Sultanate of Oman’s turtles, you become immediately aware of the fragility of their existence. A Shakespearean entanglement if ever there was one!

We humans are often neglectful and pitiable in our responses to nature, in that we demonstrate a callous disregard for the most remarkable of its creatures, simply out of a lack of care or compassion, or perhaps that may be too harsh, maybe it is a lack of our application of that care and compassion. The uncomfortable reality is that the plight of the Sultanate’s turtles cannot be glibly laid at the feet of a generic entity such as progress. That is duplicitous, only presented to excuse our own failings as individuals.

Never having been a ‘dolphin-stroking, tree-hugging conservationist,’ or an ‘environmental warrior,’ I am nevertheless given not to sadness, but a deep, visceral anger when I see turtles that have perished needlessly. I understand that accidents happen, and sometimes the survival of the fittest, and nature’s own ‘order,’ the very ‘survival of the fittest,’ cull as nature would have it. However. when we, man and mankind are completely, utterly, and indubitably responsible, my heart, in the way of a warrior, recognising the bravery of a vanquished foe, is inconsolable. What is this... this appreciation of nature that speaks less of us as God’s most intelligent servants, and more to the tainted relationship of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick.

The hatchling turtle, one of around a hundred, ‘pips,’ or breaks out of its shell using a one-time-use tooth known as a caruncle. It is unaware it has been preyed upon by foxes, dogs, rats, and birds for its 7 to 10 weeks cossetted in the sand. In a coordinated effort the hatchlings wait under the sand, near the surface for the cooler temperatures that tell them it is night. They are about to embark upon a journey, a life, that will see only one in a thousand reach full maturity and return to lay eggs three or four decades later!

Together, they emerge from the nest, and guided only by their instinctive appreciation of the slope of the beach, and the light of the white-cresting waves, they dash for the safety of the sea to begin what are known as their ‘lost decade’ as they mature while leading a nomadic life near the coastline. Once you have experienced this phenomenon, you will never forget ‘willing’ the tiny creatures to the relative safety of the sea, wanting to help, while knowing you cannot.

It is a sobering experience. In fact, knowing the challenges facing the turtle at every turn, and marvelling at nature’s processes, the caruncle, the ‘coordinated’ rush to the sea, the instinct of direction, the ability to ‘scuttle’ on land and swim in the sea immediately, and that the nest’s temperature at the time of hatching determines the hatchling’s gender. Just in this there is so much to applaud in nature.

That is why we must help these creatures when we can or regret not doing so. You, the neglectful, or with malice, know who you are, think. Think quickly, or think long and hard, but think before you dismiss nature, concern, and consideration for her from your mind, and act without at your peril. For Mother Nature has friends and supporters and drawing from some of the best lines William Shakespeare ever wrote, in King Lear: Act 3; Scene 2, here...

“Blow, winds! Blow until your cheeks crack! Rage on, blow! Let tornadoes spew water until the steeples of our churches and the weathervanes are all drowned. Let quick sulfurous lightning, strong enough to split enormous trees, singe the white hair on my head. Let thunder flatten the spherical world, crack open all the molds from which nature forms human beings, and spill all the seeds from which ungrateful humans grow!”

And to paraphrase his continued wrath... “Any wretched person who has committed secret crimes against nature and escaped justice should tremble in fear now. Better hide now, you villains, you perjurers who pretend to be virtuous. Tremble and shake, villains, for secretly plotting, and acting against nature. Let your neglect be yours to bear, yours to put right.”

King Lear may well have known nature’s plight uttering, “How ungrateful my children are! Isn’t their ingratitude like the mouth biting the hand that feeds it?”

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