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Saadani Superhero

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An unhatched green sea turtle egg at Saadani National Park (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Greetings from Tanzania, where I am quickly settling into the slow and deliberate rhythm of Africa. Every day I must remember not to rush things—just roll with it. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Just a few days inside Saadani National Park and I am reminded that humans invent far more stresses than are actually necessary to our survival. In spite of the hectic lives we create for ourselves, much of the world is a rather peaceful place. Here, I’ll give you an example.

Yesterday I was standing on this beach:

Can you believe such a place exists, and can you even try to comprehend the color of the Indian Ocean? A milky-blue turquoise, that shines brilliantly against the white sand and orange-red tidal pools at low tide—but this is more than just a pretty beach.

In fact, Madete Beach is a giant nursery—64 sq. km. of protected nesting ground for the green sea turtle. Every year, several dozen sea turtles arrive on his sandy stretch of Saadani National Park, dig giant, Jacuzzi-size pits on the beach and then fill them up with their ping-pong-ball-sized eggs. Each nest holds from 80 to 150 eggs and they incubate in the sand until the day they begin hatching. Then the itsy bithsy baby turtles must scramble to the sea.

Sadly, I missed seeing all the baby turtles—the last batch hatched on October 26th—but I was able to see their nests and hold some leftover baby sea turtle eggs in my hand. They felt papery thin and so fragile—I am amazed that all those little lives emerged from those organic sacks now discarded in the sand.

In the first few minutes of life, baby turtles face several daunting challenges. Not only must they hatch (which I imagine takes great effort)—they must also travel from the relative security of their sandy nest to the relative insecurity of the open ocean, across the exposed no man’s land of this beautiful beach where predators (e.g. lizards, birds, crabs) are just sitting and waiting to pick them off one by one.

That nature is cruel is too common a remark to make in this situation, where sea turtles are already at such high risk. That is why I was most relieved to meet Mr. Hamisi Abdallah, who works for Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA), watching over this very delicate process of new life springing from the shores of Saadani.

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Hamisi Abdullah, lifeguard to baby green sea turtles at Saadani National Park (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

“Sometimes the turtles dig their nests too close to the tide and so I must move the eggs so they will not drown,” he explained to me.

“So, you help them out?” I inquired, and he nodded.

“I guess I save them from their enemies,” he admitted, explaining how when the baby turtles begin their life-and-death march into the Indian Ocean, he wards off predators and makes sure those little ones have a fighting chance.

Now Marilyn, you know that very day I get e-mail and tweets from readers claiming that I have the coolest job in the world, however, they are misguided in this assumption. In my opinion, Hamisi has the coolest job in the world—he’s like a baby turtle midwife, or better yet, the Saadani Superhero, saving baby turtles from the bad guys. If one believes in karma, then one might assume Hamisi has accumulated staggering karma in the number of animal lives he saves.

My affection for sea turtles lies in the fact that like me, they are consummate world travelers who roam tremendous distances around the globe. In fact, right now you are in Bermuda with your children and grandchildren, but I assure you, not a mile offshore there are sea turtles roaming about. What is amazing to me is that for all the tens of thousands of miles a turtle will swim in his or her lifetime, all that traveling begins with their first trip—right here in Saadani—from egg to beach.

However insignificant those few yards may seem, like all of us—it is our first travels that carry the most meaning, because they are in fact, what propel us forward into a lifetime of travel.

And so, as a traveler, I am thankful to Mr. Hamisi and what he does here in Tanzania. I thought you would appreciate it as well, seeing as you are currently watching over your grandchildren. When you wrote to tell me how you had showed one of my puppy pictures to your grandson and he cheered up and hugged the iPad, I was genuinely touched. Then after some thought, I grew slightly concerned for future generations, if only that technology is a poor substitute for cute and cuddly.

Speaking of which, the baby monkeys here are killing me with their cuteness. If you don’t hear from me for a while, you may assume that I have passed out from the cuteness overload of so many baby monkeys with their pink heads and worried, guilty faces, as if somehow they are at fault for all that is wrong with the world.

Instead, one must focus on the positive—in this case, the fact that Tanzania has set aside so much of their land as protected national parks, dedicated solely to protecting wilderness and wildlife. As I leave this park and travel onwards to explore another, I am encouraged that we still have real wilderness.

I am sending you best wishes from the wild shores of eastern Africa. Do take care, and thank you again for correcting all my typos—like Hamisi, you ensure that my blog posts hatch on time and make it safely to sea.

And so, as they say in Swahili—Asante Sana (Thank you very much),

Your friend,


P.S. If, in the coming weeks, you find the North American winter weighing you down, please take one full minute to absorb my view:

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Panorama of Madete Beach in Saadani National Park (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

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