It’s hard going at high tide in deep sand so it takes an hour to walk all around the island and we see only turtle tracks. The turtle has gone now, her egg laying business finished for the year but the Heron Island birds rule and the sunrise shakes our world.
On the second morning, we three get up again before dawn and there, just fifty meters from our comfy room, a huge green turtle is already deep in a hole at the top of the beach, digging deeper still, flicking sand out with her back flippers so that it coats the ridge of her shell and even the top of her head.
A small crowd gathers – just a handful of the guests who can stay at Heron Island’s resort and nearby research centre. While the turtle is digging the Max and Kiara watch silently and I take photos without being seen by the turtle so we don’t disturb her.
Then I rush back to our rooms and wake the teen:
“There’s a turtle laying eggs right here on the beach!” I tell him. “Do you want to come and see?”
He opens one eye, rolls over.
“No, just take a video of it. I’ll watch that.”
Back on the beach Max and Kiara are climbing an ancient tree of driftwood that has long been wedged in the sand. The dawn light falling on their faces is beautiful and I take photos of them. Then suddenly the teen appears, mimics them, tries to push them out of the tree and taunts them.
I send him back to his room, watch him slouch off down the beach and hope the other guests didn’t hear me growl at him.
Now the time has come and the turtle lays her eggs, maybe 100 membrane-coated, ping-pong ball-sized globes which will hatch into baby turtles in eight to ten weeks time.
While laying her eggs the turtle goes into a trance and we can get closer to watch. The whole turtle nesting process can last from three to six hours.
Finally the eggs are laid and she turns carefully in the hole, hauls herself laboriously to the top and looks out, gauging how far it is back to the sea where she can glide effortlessly through the water.
In an instant she is gone.
Later we go on a reef walk with a qualified marine biologist, take bird walks with nature experts and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef.
I meet a German man who is working here guiding people on snorkelling trips, a French woman who’s working in the restaurant so she can spend six months diving the Great Barrier Reef and an English woman who’s working as an activity organiser while she completes her Masters in marine biology. Her thesis is not going well.
But I get excited about my teen working here too. He is 14 now and will leave school when he’s 17. He currently has no idea what he wants to do when he grows up so we’ve talked about sending him to the UK or New Zealand to complete one more year of school and work it out.
But Heron Island seems like the ideal place to spend a year and decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Sunil the Heron Island Resort manager says they take 17 year olds to work in the restaurant clearing tables and washing up. I think about getting my son trained up to be a dive instructor. The Mucho Man suggests he could take people on snorkelling trips.
Then I remember his childhood friend in New Zealand, who we always predicted would one day become Prime Minister. Now 14 too, she wants to work in a laboratory and I imagine her spending time in the research centre on Heron Island learning more about holothurin, a toxin which sea cucumbers produce to ward off predators that’s been found to inhibit growth of cancerous tumors.
She would love it here, peering happily into a microscope, making notes and doing experiments for hours before nipping out into the sunshine for a snorkel or swim.
I imagine how we could visit them both. They probably give discounts for staff members’ family.
Yes, I’d love to send the teen to live on Heron Island for a year and I will visit him. Often.
Meanwhile that mummy turtle will never meet her babies.