Karla Sanders

Dance of a Turtle


Dance of a turtle


Illustrated with the memory of a sea turtle in mind, this piece brings attention to the deadly red tide harming marine life off the coast of Florida. The images of sea life rotting on beaches are disturbing, so you may wonder, why did I choose to illustrate something so dangerous with such colorful elegance? This artwork is not a reflection of the current state, but rather a piece about hope. 

Here the sea turtle rises above a red tide, dramatized red with circular shapes representing the dinoflagellates and other organisms that make up the algae bloom. The source of this tide is a subject of great debate; on one side it seems clear that warming waters mixed with phosphorus from herbicides lay the blame on humans, even though algae blooms have been documented hundreds of years before the industrial revolution. Still, if you do a little research into Florida's agricultural and industrial history and mix in stronger storms, you find a perfect recipe for bigger blooms.

Reading about dying turtles took me back to a special memory, and that is how this illustration began. In spring of 2016 I had the rare opportunity to swim solo with a sea turtle who came so close to me, I could have easily touched him / her. I was snorkeling off the coast of Oahu, one of many people hoping for a chance encounter. Fortune favored me that day, as I suddenly found myself alone when a movement caught my eye. A sea turtle floated up from the floor and swam around me for such a long time, it was a breathtaking experience. 

I decided to capture this memory with illustration and my accompanying poem below. In the end, it's less about the cause and effects of a red tide, and more about strength and vitality. Nature has so many mysteries we have yet to understand, but meeting this turtle reminded me again, we cannot let environmental grief rob our sense of wonder. 

This piece is dedicated to the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center.

Dance of A Turtle

Gentle swells buoyed me to and fro
A faint crackle in my ear
The only sound from below
Weightless I drifted

And there he rose
from the patchwork sea floor
A rock detached and again dove
Or was he a mirage

That is how the dance began
Revealed to me slowly
I listened for each silent note he sang
Hearing the world in his gaze

He appeared to me again
Coming just a breath away
yet no breath came
in the salt between our eyes

Beyond an eternity we waltzed
In washes of transparent color
Time, for a moment lost
And then we broke away

The sea is living and churning
It does not stand still for any dance
Despite my yearning
Tides eb, tides flow

I looked beyond to a rising wave
The swirl of chaos approached
It is a memory I will forever save
For I want to keep him safe 

And so
I let him go