Friday, June 5, 2009

Sea Turtles

Yesterday, on Miami Beach near 15th Street, when I saw the yellow caution tapes, I thought a piece of dangerous metal had washed up; but no, it was a sea turtle nest.  Human beings were the danger.  We were warned to keep away.

The only thing I knew about sea turtles I learned from Tennessee Williams's "Suddenly Last Summer"--O, how literature can shape the mind.  (There is a film version with Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Katherine Hepburn).  Hepburn plays Mrs. Venerable, who gives a terrifying speech about the death of most newly hatched sea turtles: their soft underbellies are torn to pieces by sea birds.  This is still true.  The female uses her hind flippers to dig a nest, and lays up to 200 eggs, which take 45 to 70 days to hatch.  On their own, the hatchlings try to find the water, which in this case is only a few dozen feet away.  Most are eaten.  Yet the nest on Miami Beach amidst the sunbathers is a sign of their survival.  There's no reason why I can't think of Tennessee Williams's Mrs. Venerable and her terrifying view and at the same time admire the perseverance of the female sea turtle who dug this nest.

(The photo of the swimming sea turtle is by Jeremiah Tolbert.  You can see his fine work at:    


  1. Melville visited the Galapagos Islands, as did Darwin. Williams and Melville both call them the Encantadas (Enchanted) Isands Why the name change is a mystery to me.

    But Williams account of the perils of the hatching trutles as they race toward the water, many preyed on by birds, is much more brutal and savage than Melville's.

    In his travel writings, Melville ponderously describes the islands, which he visited as a crewman on the whaler Acushnet, thusly:

    "Volcanic Narborough lies in the black
    jaws of Albemarle like a wolf’s red
    tongue in his open mouth."

  2. What can I say after Bluedog? My comment was to be about the attempts on the cape to mark the egg nests, again protective, but not nearly so interesting as Melville.

  3. Thanks, Bluedog. Mrs. Venable, in "Suddenly Last Summer," calls them the Encantadas. Perhaps Williams and Melville thought the name was more evocative than Galapagos.

    Darwin was very interested in what might seem like the tremendously wasteful production of eggs and seeds in all living things. I believe he made it a part of his explanation for natural selection. The more eggs and seeds the more possibilities for mutations.

    I wonder, Melissa, what he would have said about our protecting sea turtles.