I hear a shout in the distance, calling me to the night-blackened beach. This is it. The moment. The one I have been waiting for ever since we arrived here in Panama. The turtles are hatching.

I take off running, trying to get to the hatchery as fast as I can. Shaking in exhilaration, I shudder to a stop in front of the small, fenced area, awaiting my chance to enter its shadowy depths. Sliding on my latex gloves, I push through the gate. Slowly. I have to go slowly so I don’t crush any eggs.

I can already see their little bodies squirming against the netting set up around their nest. Closer. Careful now, I remind myself.

“Oh my God, they’re so cute!” I cry to Lila, carefully setting myself behind the nest. Carefully, I lift up the hem of the gauzy net. Cautiously, I reach in to grab one of the turtles. Gently, I tell myself. No, hold it behind the flippers.

Perfect. Once I have a firm handle on this little handful of flailing flippers and shell, I gently put it in the white styrofoam box lined with sand. One by one, we move each little turtle, handling each as if it was a shiny gem.

Finally, the last turtle. As we set it into the box, Lila and I each grab an end and make our way back to the group with our prizes. At this point, everyone else had been given gloves to aid the next task, the one we had all been waiting for. The release.

Carrying the turtles to the water, we gauge our distance from its edge. We have to allow space for the turtles to get their bearings so that, in the future, they can come back to this beach to lay their eggs.

“Here,” a man’s voice floats through the shadows.

We know that, statistically, only one of these turtles will have a chance to survive to adulthood.


I gently lift a turtle from the box.


I walk a few feet away.


I set down this treasure, my gift to the sea.


I watch carefully as my turtle, this tiny little life that has so many dangers to overcome, so many predators to escape, moves away from me. Looping and weaving, it gradually finds its way to the edge of the ocean.

I look around and see that all of the turtles have been released, and that everyone shares the look of awe and love and trepidation that I imagine is painted across my face. We watch through the dimly moonlit night for minutes, but it feels like hours.

In the morning, I walk down to the beach. I gaze out silently at the calm waters, and wonder where my turtle is and if it is alive. I hope so. I look down. All across the sand, as far as the eye can see, are little turtle tracks. Loops, swirls, and spots cover the beach.

I watch, contemplating, as the waves slowly lap at the trails, causing them to fade away. As the breakfast bell rings in the distance, I watch, the only reminder of the turtles gradually being swept away by the tide. My memories of that night may fade over time, but they have left an impression, just like tracks in the sand.