Autumn's Odyssey

They say the first minutes of a sea turtle's life is unforgiving. 
That is an understatement.
I remember the first time I saw the moon’s blinding light. Brighter than bright. Not a minute had passed since my birth. I scuffled out of the sand onto the beach with my sisters by my side. I only had sisters, no brothers - perhaps something to do with the temperature. I heard the ocean’s call, her allure powerful beyond comparison. I must reach the safety of the sea. My instincts demanded so. 
Thousands upon thousands of us set on a frantic march to the sea. First came the scavengers, with thunderous thuds they landed and with deathly precision they snatched up my sisters. One by one, destined to become a bird's lunch. Then came the crabs. Pesky crustaceans with murderous claws. How can death greet life so quickly? But I was close to the blue. The sound and smell of freedom beckoned. 
My journey had just begun. 
I sought shelter under a floating algae mat. I spent most of my younger years hiding from predators. My instincts demanded that I go forth with the currents. I spent most of my time on my own, but from time to time, I’d come across fellow voyagers. Life in the deep blue is long, quiet and beautiful. 
The currents carry me through the reefs. Oh, the reefs are something else. Geometric corals are the fine art galleries of the ocean. Multicoloured fish dart in and out of rocky crevices. I met all sorts of folks on the reef. Beautiful ones and odd ones. Some like the nudibranch are beautifully odd. I wish I could settle in a reef, but instincts demand I move on with the current. 
I saw a large algae mat drifting in the open sea. It looked similar to the ones I’d hide under as a child for protection. I quickly took shelter. This felt … different? Strange strands of thread wrapped around my flippers. I tried getting it off but the more I tried, the more it wrapped around me.. I kept trying and trying until exhaustion kicked in.
This was no algae mat. It was heavy, and I drifted with it. I drifted against my instinctive directions. 
I remembered a story I heard in the reef a few years back. A manta, after venturing into the deep blue, shared a tale of a strange creature she saw. A beast with a thousand tentacles. The creature devoured indiscriminately. No one was safe from it. We thought it was a myth. 
I knew what caught me. They called it the ghost net. The spectre that haunts our homes.
I don’t know how long I drifted for. I was close to the end when suddenly, I found myself lifted out of the water. I’ve seen them before, the humans. They like to visit us in reefs, and sometimes they wear strange gear and blow bubbles underwater. 
The green-clothed humans took me to a sanctuary. To my surprise, I found others like myself. They all carried scars and wounds. Stories of a harsh life at sea. The humans were patient with me. With great precision, they removed the ghost net from my body. Thread by thread. I felt the first sense of relief in a long time. 
I woke up to an elderly turtle staring me right in the eyes, “Welcome to the sanctuary, Autumn!” He exclaimed. 
“Autumn?” No one ever gave me a name before, I liked Autumn. 
The elder apparently came here a long time ago, and he can’t quite remember why. His memory isn’t so sharp. 
“They’re going to make you better,” he said, “you’ll be out in no time.” 
I made a lot of friends during my time here at the sanctuary. We shared so many stories. Most of them ended up here the same way I did - caught in a ghost net. I learned that humans discard these nets in the sea, I don’t really know why. I wondered why they were helping us? What’s in it for them? The elder was weak, but his mind was a treasure trove of wisdom. 
“All life,” he paused, “relies on each other. You tend to the seagrass. Your eggs nourish the beach. Your own body is home to barnacles and algae. You keep jellyfish in check. You, and the millions of folk you meet out there, maintain these fragile cycles of nature”. 
“Even sharks?” I asked.
“Especially sharks”, the elder replied. 
I was slowly healing. I could swim and dive again. Oh, how good it felt. Some friends had already left the sanctuary. The elder remained. He was deeply ill, I do not know if he’ll ever see the deep blue again. 
It was my time to go. I bid farewell to all my friends. I gently swam to the elder and thanked him for his help and wisdom. 
“It’s all in your instincts. Just keep going with the currents,” he said. 
That was the last time we saw each other. 
I prepared to embark on my journey to the deep blue again. The green-clothed humans placed a strange red object on my shell. No one has ever seen it before. I didn’t know what it was, but I had an inkling they were going to keep an eye on me. I could still dive, swim, and move around as I pleased. I barely felt it. 
Against all odds, I was in the ocean again. I can’t read human expressions, but I think they were both happy and sad to see me leave. I am eternally grateful for their help. I felt the allure of the deep blue once again. I felt my instincts kick in. It was time to go. My long and beautiful journey continues. 
The following writing is a dramatised fictional account of a turtle's perspective inspired by a former patient at the Olive Ridley Project called Autumn. Tourists travelling to the Maldives can contribute to turtle conservation by donating to ORP or adopting a turtle.   
The real life Autumn is continuing her journey at sea. You can follow Autumn's journey here
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