24 September, 2008
Last week I had the wonderful experience of visiting an eco-camp in Far North Queensland, and seeing marine turtles labouring up the beach to lay their eggs. I also saw many hatchlings making their journey out of the sand in the dunes, and, as they have done for time immemorial, traverse the sand to the ocean, where their life becomes a precarious existence.
As a said, a wonderful experience, but there were aspects of this trip that concerned me greatly.
The first was how data was being collected on the turtles. I found this process deeply disturbing. First there was the tagging of the turtle fins, often done immediately after the turtle had finished laying her eggs. The turtle was ungracefully turned on its back, and a device was used to implant a metal tag into her front fins. The turtle “screamed”. This was an expression, I thought, of both pain and defiance. After millions of years of existence, the turtle has to endure this mutilation of her fins, and the indignity of being placed on her back. The scientific method simply does not treat the creatures it studies as worthy of respect – these creatures have survived very well with out the need for scientific studies. It is not as if we need further data to understand the lifestyle of turtles, and we are well aware of the current risks posed to turtles by fishing and development. Do the researchers need approval from someone to inflict pain and suffering on other creatures?
The second major concern was the inability of the other members of the group to just be with the turtles when we came across them on the beach. Imagine this scene: full moon rising, brilliant stars, other planets glowing, pulsing rhythmic waves caressing sand, and an ancient creature coming ashore. Can we witness and be present to this mysterious and magical event? No, incessant photo taking, mostly with flashes, and seeing all this through the lens of a camera. The objectifying sense of sight so common in our society is exaggerated through the taking of photos – just think about the common photographic words – “shoot”, “capture” etc.
Is it any wonder we can’t see the mystery in the world around us when we see everything through the distancing and objectifying sense of sight? And when we treat other creatures as entertainment, there for us to look at?
There is another way of encountering wildlife. And this is to bring our full awareness and all our senses (and love) to this mysterious and magical other, to notice the small things: how turtle breathes, the shape of her head, how she moves, how she is, being fully a turtle. This leads us to recover a sense of wonder and awe.