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Guinea-Bissau — As night falls, the only lights visible on uninhabited Poilão Island are the nearly full moon and the eerie red glow beaming from a few headlamps.

The soft spotlight of a headlamp occasionally falls on a sea turtle and gives the beach scene an other-worldly feel befitting the island’s sacred status. It’s one of a handful of sacred islands dotting the 88-island Bijagós Archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.

The turtles dig their nests, shoveling the beach with the same fore flippers they use to maneuver the ocean. The swoosh of flying sand harmonizes with the soft crash of waves to form the soundtrack to hundreds of sea turtles laying their eggs. Besides bridging the aquatic and terrestrial worlds, the turtles’ ancient physiology seems to bridge a time chasm between past and present. They have, after all, been around for 120 million years.

“I like the turtles,” says Carlito Sedja, his headlamp lighting a rosy path on the beach. “Its very nature fascinates me — how it lives in water and at the same time on land.”

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