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Turtle Stories

Posted: Dec 16, 2009

During the 10 years I've been teaching scuba, I have never EVER tired of seeing turtles. They are just amazing (who knew something shaped like a Volkswagen bug could be so streamlined and graceful?) and I've been lucky to witness countless interesting behaviors and turtle interactions.

I will never forget the time a turtle I called "Lefty" (no front right fin) zeroed in on me as I was kneeling in the sand. My students were wide-eyed as the turtle approached from behind (I had no idea what was going on) and came up and nudged and "purred" me! That's the best way to describe it. Lefty passed against and through my legs a couple of times and then settled down in the sand directly in front of me. I was intrigued, so I laid flat in the sand facing the turtle and waited to see what would happen next. Well, Lefty had some ideas. I saw him glance up once, twice, then he lifted his head and approached once again, clamping down on my bangs and the top of my mask. I was trying not to giggle too hard (didn't want the exhalations of bubbles to disturb him) as he seemed to process, "nope, guess that wasn't sea grass after all" and sat right back down. I wish I could find the photo someone took of this event!

If you've been in our shop, you've seen the photo of "Rascal the turtle" above our classroom door. Everyone comments that she seems to be smiling. Well, for several months during the winter in 2002, this turtle seemed to join us as an extra buddy during our dives at Ulua Beach. She would appear mid reef and would swim along very close to my face and just above my shoulder, usually a diver's blind spot. You can imagine that I was frequently surprised by her when I'd turn my head to check on divers and come face to face with "Rascal" instead!

For years I have enjoyed watching turtles use flag and mooring lines as scratching posts, rubbing their necks and fins against them to take care of that itch. I marveled at how they could do this and NEVER get tangled! Or so I thought. Just a few weeks ago, I noticed that my flag seemed to be bobbing in an unusual way and as I approached, I discovered that a turtle was hovering around it. Ah ha, I thought, I get to show my dive buddy this behavior! But as we got closer, it became obvious that the turtle was indeed tangled; she looked like someone had tried to gift wrap her and tie a bow. How on earth had she gotten THIS tangled up??? As a diver, turtle lover, naturalist, etc. seeing this type of situation really tears at your heart, and I hurried over to free her. The first thing she did was bolt and I followed her, towing the flag so that the turtle wouldn't inadvertently tighten the noose she'd fashioned. As I approached again, she seemed to sense my intentions and settled right in for the help being offered. She was untangled and freed in under a minute - whew!

Then there was the time we were doing surface skills during an Open Water class. One of the students pointed to something floating nearby and we swam over to investigate. Well, one turtle was on top of a larger turtle and they just floated together with the larger turtle struggling every few minutes to get her head to the surface for a breath. Yes, we got to see turtles "doing it"! Being the nosey buggahs we are, we tried to stay for the whole thing, but these turtles had staying power, and eventually we had to continue with our class...

Most recently, I had the extreme privilege of getting to watch the excavation of a hawksbill turtle nest right here in Kihei. Right around sunset, a small group gathered to watch the pros help the remaining hatchlings out of their nest. Mama turtles dig their nests about two feet deep - that's a lot of sand for these little critters to break through before journeying to the waterline! Some emerged and began to flop around immediately, and others still had to actually hatch from their eggs - it was so cool to see! Once all the baby honus were freed (over 60 of them that night), our group got to escort them to water and see them off on their first ocean journey!

If you want to see a hatchling video clip, you can check it out on our Maui Dreams Facebook page.

And P.S. I bet you already know this, but it is illegal to harass sea turtles. Please do not feed, chase, touch, or crowd them. Be respectful and observe sea turtles from a safe and reasonable distance.

Aloha, Rachel

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