Barry Ginn of Hilton Head Island had a meeting with God on the beach early Wednesday morning.
That's what it seemed like when he came across a rare sight: a loggerhead turtle burrowed in a dune, water flowing from her eyes as she laid eggs in the sand.
"It's really overwhelming," Ginn said.
It's an ancient ritual islanders know well, thanks to the 30-year-old Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project. Its volunteers have marked 120 nests so far this season on the island.
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But because the lumbering turtles come onshore at night, rarely does anyone see her dig a hole, deposit 100 or so leathery eggs in it, cover it and then crawl back into the ocean, leaving tracks that can look like a four-wheeler had been that way.
Ginn walks the beach in Port Royal Plantation most mornings with his dog, Romeo. He often sees new nests marked by the volunteers who work through the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
It was probably around 6 a.m. when he saw this turtle, already on her nest. Two or three other people were in the area.
"At first, everybody is excited, and then everybody realizes, let's give her space," Ginn said. "Nobody was screaming, 'Oh, wow, look at this!' There were kids there and dogs there, but I tell you everyone had respect for the turtle.
"It was almost like a telecommunication between us. I know that sounds kind of weird, but I looked in those eyes and the turtle never looked like it was scared or timid or anything like that. It looked like it understood we were curious but nobody was going to harm it."
Ginn said the turtle eggs "came out like a ping pong gun going off."
He snapped pictures with his cellphone as a crowd of onlookers grew to about 20.
"You saw tears in the crowd, I tell you that," he said.
The turtle covered her nest, then headed for the Atlantic Ocean, even changing course at one time to take the most direct route.
"She would go about eight or 10 steps and rest, go eight or 10 steps and rest," Ginn said. "It was not easy for her. It was very taxing. It took a lot of energy."
But when she hit about a foot of water, she pushed off with her flippers and was gone.