The warm sea water rushes in over my feet and I stand frozen to the spot, aware that any sudden moves could result in an eco-conservation disaster.
As the wave subsides, a small dark brown blob resurfaces and I breathe a sigh of relief. It once again starts slowly padding its way over the wet sand.
Following an afternoon walking through dense forest in a nature sanctuary near Praia da Pipa, we have stumbled across a group of schoolchildren helping to ensure the safe passage of newborn Hawksbill hatchlings from their beach nest into the Atlantic Ocean.
Everyone (me especially) oohs and aahs as the 10cm-long turtles instinctively follow each other one by one towards their first taste of the open sea, as the sun disappears over the horizon.
Many different turtle types are found near the reef at the picturesque beaches of Rio Grande do Norte.
A few hundred metres away their older relatives bob gently up and down as the waves crash below rose-coloured cliffs. Glimpsing these from a lookout point, and previously in Trancoso, had seemed impressive enough, but encountering the mini version took it to another level.
A national conservation organisation, Projeto Tamar, is helping to ensure that the critically endangered species’ eggs can hatch successfully, free from predators and human impact.
A Tamar volunteer explains that the plight facing these placid reptiles is still enormous as they are so easily captured – of a thousand baby turtles born on these shores, only a pitiful one or two will ever reach adulthood.
The Hawksbill’s thick protective shell is still commonly used as a decorative material, despite the outlawing of the practice in recent years.
The lucky mini Hawksbills who reach maturity will eventually measure up to a metre in length and could live for 50 years in the wild.
Having just marvelled at a two-metre-long Leatherback turtle shell in a local exhibition, it is amazing to think how something so seemingly impenetrable could also be so vulnerable.
Twilight falls and the last tiny turtle, who has been confidently wriggling off in the wrong direction, is gently nudged back on course by a helping hand.
As a wave washes over him his flippers thrash around excitedly and then, a second later, he is gone.