If you have never seen one, leatherbacks are pretty much dinosaurs. They are huge and look like something that hasn’t changed in millions of years. When I first saw this 900-pound figure crawl out of a pitch black ocean, I was not entirely sure that what we were doing was safe. It stirred something deep inside of me though. Something basic, something old.
We allowed the turtle to nest, and once it started laying eggs we checked for its tags and measured the length of the shell, recording all of our findings. My patrol, covering a one-mile stretch of beach, came across five turtles that night. The other patrol recorded seven. I spent another eight days on the beach and found myself more at peace than at any other time I can remember.
There was no TV, no internet, and really nothing to pull me away from the moment I was in. I spent my days reading, gathering food and talking with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I was up for every sunrise and sunset, and I spent my nights working with sea turtles.
I cannot express to you how hard it was to leave that place.
My experience has left an indelible mark. I came to Shell Beach thinking I would see if field work was something I would like, and left knowing there is nothing I want to do more.
I would encourage anyone who finds this story interesting to look into volunteering. It doesn’t have to be in a remote corner of the wilderness, but it should be somewhere you might not go otherwise.
I think you will be amazed at what you can do if you push yourself a little bit, and I know you will experience a sensation that is unlike anything you can read on a computer screen.
Watch Dan’s video of a leatherback heading back out to sea:
Dan Wright is a human resources manager at Conservation International.