Turtle: The Incredible Journey (2009) Documentary Film Review

Director: Nick Stringer
United Kingdom, 2009

Newborn Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) hatchling on the beach in Juno, FL.

I am a Loggerhead turtle.

I break out of shell and sand. I traverse the land to reach the sea. The crabs and gulls see me as prey, but I am determined, I must satiate this driving hunger that permeates my being, I must continue forward.

It is along the Gulf Stream that I navigate. Heading north on my float-sum raft with companions in the shape of sea horses and fish that have camouflage exteriors to mimic the vessel we reside upon. I am still soft shelled. I need to grow and rest.

A strange stillness envelopes our journey. We have been driven off course into a timeless Sargasso sea. Within moments a great beast obliterates our raft, tossing apart what kept alive my companions. I am alone now. I must use my arms to regain my sense of direction. I search and search. I swim through swamps of black sludge that sticks to my body. I pass the carcass of a turtle just like me, hollow in the eyes, covered in thick oil. I pass beautiful shinny float-sum. I am so hungry I eat it, but it does not break apart. It does not taste like anything. Ahead of me I see translucent orbs with beaded strands swaying in a breeze created by the creatures. Their movement is hypnotic. Their movement entices me, fuels my hunger. Is that a fish I see, encased in their arms, encased in death? I can’t tell, all I know is that I must eat this tantalizing creature. The first bite releases delicious chewy sustenance. In this consumption I am aware that eons of ancestors developed a tolerance to the poison, to make food out of an enemy. I again am hopeful. I know I can find my way out of this limbo.

Back in the Gulf Stream. How long has it been? I am older now. Larger, but still not as large as the magnificent humpback whale. Or the sleek blue shark. I trail behind them on my own journey, but I am curious about where they go. How long have they been making this voyage? In the North Sea the sky above the roof of the ocean sends down torrents of water droplets. It sends down thousands of hands that thrust apart portions of the surface, making waves, colliding with each other. I am too small to fight this energy. I give up and allow the current to take me towards the imposing rocky pillars of the shore.

Tranquility again. I swim away from the stone island, in a sea that is rapidly cooling. I makes me sleepy, as though I could just rest forever. But at night, I see the magnetic beacon. The shimmery curtain of light in the sky. I reminds me of my journey. Of the path I need to continue to follow.

Back south I have broken free of the Gulf Stream and head towards the warm waters of the Azores. In this place I can truly rest and build up my strength. Among the schools of fish and coral, are others like me. Some have been here a long time. Some are just arriving. I see their shapes floating by and wonder what their paths were like. I burrow into the sandy floor and sleep.

My shell is hard now. I am larger. I must continue traveling. I leave the peace and comfort of the Azores and continue south toward the heat of the equator. Along the way I see the bounty of the ocean. Schools of small fish form bait balls that shimmer and spiral like a whirlpool. Into this funnel dive sea birds, dolphins, sharks, and more, to eat whatever they can grasp. I look for stragglers. I am not fast enough to navigate those twirling masses. As I continue onwards I see the belly of a shadow hovering at the surface. From it descends delicious morsels of food. I swim up to one and investigate. It is a small squid. I am hungry and have been traveling for a while. I eat the squid. I am pricked in the jaw. I cannot control my movement. I am lifted up towards the edge of the water, towards the light. I struggle, but I cannot out maneuver this stronger beast. Hanging above the surface I am grasped. I see a blue shark drying up on the deck of the beast. The hook is removed from my jaw and I am tossed back into the water. As I reenter, I see others being lifted out of the water. My mind tells me to swim away and not look back.

I know I am close. I have been traveling for years. I know I am almost there. Finally, I reach the Caribbean. These clear warm waters feel like home, though I’ve never been here before. I know this is where I must stay for a while. Here, where food is bountiful, I swim through coral that sways an alluring dance. Past sting rays with their ghostly white bellies. I see hammerhead sharks. Fish the colors of sun beams passing through sparkling water. I make a home and rest. I eat the crunchy shells and sweet meat of crabs scurrying along the sandy floor. The seasons pass. I wait. I am patient.

One day, I wake up and know my time has come. My body is healthy and ready. I must return to the sands where I was born. I bid the Caribbean goodbye. I will be back, but not for a while. I begin to swim north again. To go back to those sands I must bring something. I must give something to the land. I wait in the shallows of sea grasses. The sun drops beads of light. I sense his presence. There in the distance, heading toward me is another turtle. Like me. We are few at this age. Our lives are solitary. But we know were to go to find each other. In the descent of a timeless sun I am ready to bestow upon the land my burden, my gift.

How many years has it been since I left? Twenty summers have passed. I catch the scent of my home waters and swim with greater determination. My mind is a map and I am making a complete circle. The beach is obstructed by a barrier. A dead reef barrier. I must find a way around it. There are large shadows, large sentinels guarding the beach. They do not move, but blink a light display when the sun disappears. With all of my might I make it across the strange obstruction. I allow the tide to take me onto the shore. I have not touched land since I left this beach, breaking out of the shell. Here, on a surface that makes me awkward and slow, I move at a pace that is filled with determination. I find the spot. I begin to dig, I shift sand and shift sand and I stop when I know that it is the right depth. I lay my eggs. Hundreds. I encase them in sand and return to the ocean. I leave them behind, entrusted to the land, entrusted to millennia of knowledge.

My journey is complete.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey screened at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. All screenings have passes since the posting of this review.

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