Diving over a shallow sand area. Water slightly murky from a long day with waves. Not much to see. Then I spot something large moving in the distance. First I see only a dark shadow. I swim closer. My heart fills with joy when I see what it is. A turtle. Busy eating grass from the bottom. It does not mind me coming closer. I stay still for a while. It eats grass on the bottom around me. Sometimes it stops, study me for a few seconds, and then continue. After maybe 5 minutes it surface for air and come back down to continue eating.
On the beach not far from here, people are working around the clock to protect these beautiful and endangered species. Protecting their nesting sites. Closing the beaches at night so they can lay their eggs in peace and safety. After weeks, the eggs hatch and they gently release the young turtles on the beach and guard them on the short journey into the ocean. Hopefully this work will help the turtles from extinction and generations after me can experience these wonderful encounters.
I have been lucky to swim with turtles many places around the world. These pictures are from Akumal, Mexico. One night we went to visit the local NGO called Centro Ecológico Akumal to see how they work. They have day patrols to locate turtle nests and place protective barriers around them, and night patrols to ensure that tourists do not disturb nesting turtles. Local residents have agreed to minimize light pollution by closing all shops, bars and restaurants before 11pm and local fishermen and tour boats abide by ‘no go’ areas in which areas of sea grasses are roped off so that feeding turtles will not be disturbed by boats.
We met them late at night before night patrol in a small building on the beach. They talked about the turtle project, the importance of the work and the environmental challenges the turtle face. Then they gave us instructions on how to behave around the turtles before we walked carefully in the dark down to the beach. We had to lie in the sand and wait. After a long time we started to see the back of turtles coming out of calm ocean in the dim moonlight. We stayed still and waited for them to dig deep holes and start laying eggs. One of the conservation people led us slowly down to one of the turtles to get a closer look. We had to be quiet and not crawl to close. We watched the turtle lay a large amount of eggs, shuffle sand over and slowly crawl back to the sea. After a while the conservation workers dug the eggs deeper down and put nets around the site to protect from predators. During daytime another team watch the sites and make sure the eggs are safe.
The population and the environment of the turtles in this area are monitored and all the data is continuously analyzed. The results of these efforts is that the number of turtle nests and hatchlings are starting to increase and is making the Akumal turtle project one of the few success stories in turtle conservation.
Read more about fantastic diving in Mexico: http://reflections.no/would-you-try-to-reach-the-hospital-or-go-for-one-last-dive/