Turtles All the Way

Long, long ago, in the days when turtles had teeth, there lived a great sea-turtle, the mother of all sea-turtles, who gracefully swam the wide sea we now call the Pacific Ocean …


Thus begins a folktale from the Western Sepik, as told by Joseph Abi. It tells how that great turtle created the island of New Guinea and brought man and woman to live together there in happiness and peace. (Stokes 1978)


On the beach at Mon Repos,  Queensland, the moonlight was mesmerising and the rhythm of the breakers regulated our breathing. In the darkness, I recalled a story I’d read – was it Joseph Campbell who told it? An astronomer gave a public lecture, explaining his theory of the Solar System. He  was challenged by an elder in the audience. “You’re wrong,” she said. “We all live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle!”

When questioned by the astronomer about what that turtle stood on, she replied that it was a second turtle … and indeed, that it was turtles all the way down.

“Keep to the shoreline in single file. No noise. No flashlights.” The night air was warm. An almost full-moon shone on a rolling tide, as we silently strode along the shoreline, escorted by our park ranger.


We had come to a conservation park to watch sea-turtles lay their eggs. As Group 3, we waited for the sixth turtle of the night to heave herself up the beach. Three had already turned back.  Peering into the dark about 30 m away, I could see a dark hump against the sand. The ranger told us he’d identified her as a Loggerhead, by the alternate left, then right tracks she made as she moved up the beach ( like these we saw the next morning).


Once she had created her nest and begun to lay, we were allowed to come close. Nothing distracts the mother turtle while she is in labour. A light placed under the sand below her. allowed us to see the white eggs tumbling out. We all stood in wonder as we witnessed this miracle of nature.


The ranger checked her tag, and radioed the details back to base. He answered questions – she was about 90kgs, he surmised … to dig the hole deeper, she’d had to tip back into the hole and scoop with her back flippers  These details appeared on a certificate we purchased later.


Mon Repos, near Bundaberg in Australia, has the most significant Loggerhead Turtle nesting population in the South Pacific ocean region. They are an endangered species.


But … our turtle had chosen a nest site that was sure to be inundated by the next King Tide. So when she had covered the nest, gotten her bearings and headed back to the sea, our ranger carefully dug out and counted her eggs. We all helped carry those 111 eggs to a safer nest in the dunes. I saw her slip under the waves.


Her hatchlings will scramble down the beach in 2 months time and have a 1:1000 chance of survival. Adult turtles are about 30 years old before they mate and lay eggs. And they keep on coming back to the rookery where they were born! Awesome.

We drifted back along the beach and went home silent.

Early next morning, we found other Loggerhead tracks and the nest on the beach close to where we were staying.


Three landward and seaward trails: three more mother turtles had come up, dug a nest, laid eggs, tucked them in safe and had gone while we slept.

Tnest2 Here it is in broad daylight. Those turtles are out there, holding up their circle of life, slow and steady. Such determination made them grit their teeth.

Perhaps that’s how they lost them. Turtles still swim gracefully across the wide Pacific Ocean.

What a gift! What an experience.


All Text and photos by Meg ©2013

Other Texts STOKES, Donlald S. [Collector] & WILSON, Barbara Kerr [Reteller] (1978) The Turtle and the island: folk tales from Papua New Guinea. 

See also Turtles all the way down


First Words

A good friend of mine is a Great Aunt in both senses of the word. She loves spending time with her great nieces and nephew. It seems that the youngest niece was slow to talk. She was very good at sound effects and pointing.  Her older sister, helpfully filled in any gaps in communication.

One day mum was driving the three kids all packed into the back of the family car. Traffic was slow, the radio was on and suddenly up piped a new voice declaring “I love this song!” The youngest had spoken her first words and hasn’t stopped since.

Do you know what you’re first words were?  I’ve asked a few friends and had stories about a toddler dragging a book to every visitor who happening to be sitting down and demanding “Read this!” Whereas her sister, had always liked to repeat , “Is the cat out?” as they went off on a trip to town.

Sometimes its just one word for a favourite thing like “Da,” or “App-le.” I babysat one little girl who loved olives and called them “Lolives” as she pointed for more.

If you don’t know what you first words were, what would you liked them to have been?

My brother-in-law takes great delight in ribbing me. Seemingly whenever we’re driving through beautiful Scotland, I keep exclaiming “Look at the trees!” Boy, does he make fun of me. So I’d like those four words to have been my first.


Last time I said “Look at the trees!” was on our recent walk in Edmonds, USA.

I can’t help myself, truly.

All text and photo by Meg

Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License