I open my eyes. I need to double-check to make sure they're open because it is completely dark in the cabin. The leaves are rustling in the wind just outside the window, along with the sound of gentle waves lapping the shore. I reach for my wristwatch and the fluorescent dials read 11:45, that's PM. It's fifteen minutes before midnight and time to get up.
This has become my new routine for the past few weeks since I arrived at the research station. The research station is situated in a remote part of the Costa Rican jungle along the Caribbean coast, about an hour by boat to the nearest town. It's April, it's turtle nesting season and that's why I'm here.
I wake up in time for the midnight shift after just a few hours of sleep. I convince myself that I ought to be used to this by now, but I really doubt I can ever really get use to it. I stumble my way into the kitchen for a cup of coffee--the best damn coffee I've ever had--and try to savour it briefly before heading out on the four-hour trek. Together with my buddies Urban and Carlos, we begin our mission to patrol the 4km stretch of beach where the turtles are nesting at this time of year. We are tasked with two things; first is to tag and catalog any turtles we encounter, then is to relocate the eggs to a protected area so they can be safe from predators.
It's a dark night out, the moon and stars are shrouded in cloud cover but this is exactly what the turtles are hoping for. It makes it hard to see where I'm stepping and I focus intensely to make sure I am not tripping over a log or stepping into a hole. After two hours of walking up and down this stretch of beach, I see in a distance a moving shadow. Could this be our first sighting of the evening? But I have to be careful because it could just as easily be a dog or a monkey. As I approach the shadow slowly, I can make out the unmistakable size and shape of a leatherback turtle. These turtles are the largest reptiles on the planet but also helplessly slow and docile when they are ashore. I quickly get to work tagging and measuring the creature while trying to stay out of her way as she lays her eggs. I notice she has a deep cut in her rear flipper, possibly from a shark bite. The carapace is smooth with just a few barnacles near the tail end. She is a small one, at just under 5 feet, possibly a first time mother. She digs a deep hole with her rear flippers, more than two feet deep, and begins to lay her eggs into it.
We watch intently as the giant creature goes through this routine, one that has been played over and over again for thousands of years but which each new generation has to figure out on its own. After about fifteen minutes, the ordeal is over for the mother turtle. She buries her eggs and starts her journey back into the ocean. As soon as she is away from the nest, we get to work and dig up the nest to relocate the eggs to the sanctuary. We transfer the sixty eggs into a bag and make our way back to the sanctuary along the beach. This is the routine. It's hard to imagine walking along a beach at the early hours in the morning and looking for giant sea monsters as being routine. But it's something I have come to accept and even enjoy.
Throughout the night, we repeat this two more times; a total of three turtles spotted this evening. This is a good night, busy but not overwhelming. By 4 AM, I am exhausted from the walk and the lack of sleep. I make my way back into my cabin, crawl into my sleeping bag and hope to catch a bit of rest before the sun is up signaling the start of a new day.
Author's Note: This is my first draft, feel free to share your suggestions on how to make this story more interesting!