Turtle: The Incredible Journey
OK, so itís not very exciting. But thereís a sublime kind of satisfaction to watching this well-made documentary about one loggerhead turtle, who remains nameless, but for ease of storytelling, letís give it a shot: Deborah. The Judge in the Bible by that name was a powerful, solitary figure who was guided by her own lights, right? (Judges 4: 4-10) Same with Deborah, the turtle.
Deborah begins her life on the coast of Florida, as one of hundreds of little sea turtles who are instinctively breaking through their eggs, and then climbing up through the sand on the seashore, scurrying as fast as they can to the sea, some 100 yards away.
But thatís a perilously long distance for a newborn sea turtle, on dry land. Many of the hatchlings are lost to swooping pelicans and even carnivorous crabs. But Deborah finally makes it to the open ocean, some atavistic impulse deep within her pulling her out to sea, where she moves more easily than on land, but still has to come up for air.
Before long, Deborah finds the warm Gulf Stream, which will propel her all the way across the Atlantic . Itís an enormous blue highway for all manner of fish, including hammerhead sharks and dolphins, and soon Deborah finds a nice, cushy clump of seaweed that she uses as a raft, pleasantly discovering that she can eat the Portugese Man-of-War without being affected by its venomous sting: eons of evolution, perhaps?
Thereís a huge detour: the wide Saragossa Sea , a kind of dead spot in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean , where thereís no wind or tide or current, and many species flounder and perish there. But somehow Deborah learns to survive on her own, and hangs out alone there for oh, about five years. She even gains enough strength and acuity to feast on the same type of crabs that once devoured her siblings. Then, finally, she is ready to resume her trek across the Atlantic .
Incredibly, she rides the warm Gulf Stream all the way to where it bumps into the cold Artic Stream, creating an effusion of fish, which is like an incredible feast for those who can manage to eat instead of being eaten. Then, Deborah rides the equatorial current along the west coast of Europe, settling in the Azores, the islands off Africa which offer her plenty of food, shelter, and security. She grows into an adult. Sheís now 21, but feels herself with a different kind of stirring within, one that drives her all the way westward back to the coast of Florida, where she meets other loggerheads also following their primal urges, and with barely so much as a ďHow do you do?Ē, she chooses her mate. And then promptly abandons him to recover her precious solitude.
Now thereís a different kind of natural desire: to lay her eggs in a proper nest. For Deborah, itís back to the very beach where she herself was hatched. Itís different now; there are high-rises within sight. But the sand is still there, and so she traverses it, stronger now, certain of her destination. She digs a hole, she lays her eggs one by one, and she returns to the sea from which she came. So that the life cycle of countless centuries can begin again.
Melanie Finnís writing is prosaic, poetic, and sometimes presumptuous. Miranda Richardsonís polished narration is certainly a plus, and the veteran National Geographic Director, Nick Stringer, is certainly not afraid to let the majesty and grandeur of nature speak for itself. This is a quietly elegant documentary suitable for all ages, though itís unclear why, two years after production, itís been released to movie theaters rather than to the Discovery Channel. Itís educational, but will be largely ignored by thrill-seeking theater audiences everywhere.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas