Being able to observe a marine turtle in its habitat is an extraordinary experience. These animals have been here since the era of the dinosaurs – 110 million years- but currently all these species are in danger of extinction. So if we want them to be with us for any longer, we have to take their protection into serious consideration and take the following precautions.
In the water:
Whether sailing, snorkeling or scuba diving, we can come in contact with turtles. In this case, in order to respect and protect the animals and their natural environment, their feeding and resting areas we must consider the following:
*don’t follow or chase them
*keep a minimum distance of 6 meters
*if in a group, do not surround them
*always leave them a way out
*do not touch or embrace them
*be quiet and calm in their presence
*swim away if the animal looks stressed or agitated
*do not interrupt their sleep or awaken them
*allow the animal to emerge from the water to breathe. If they don’t, they could die
*don’t feed the animals. They are herbivore and an inadequate diet can affect their health. They could also become used to looking for food near boats and this could cause collisions and their death. If they become accustomed to eating fish they may end up swallowing hooks which can cause irreparable damage.
*don’t leave garbage behind and pick up any you may find – turtles may confuse them with jellyfish
*don’t stay more than a half an hour nearby
In case of approaching a turtle by boat:
*watch out for the propellers – they can hurt or kill the animals when they emerge for fresh air
*reduce speed when approaching
*use buoys and don’t anchor over the coral areas where they feed
More info on Respectful Diving here.
On the beaches where they lay their eggs:
Due to their excellent sense of direction, turtles always return to the same spot where they were born to lay their eggs.
Certain activities and over lighting can frighten the turtles at the beach and disorientating them. If you want to observe the turtles during this process make sure that you have a professional guide and preferably a member of a conservation NGO who will assure the minimum disturbance. Some general advice is:
*keep as quiet and still as possible
*keep a minimum of a 20 meter distance from the animal
*don’t smoke near the animal
*don’t touch the turtle in any way (it is hard to imagine but many try to take a photo with them)
*if you use a flashlight, make sure that it has the red LED or special filters
* If you light the animal always do it from behind it
*don’t use flash. It disorientates them and they may not be able to find their way back to the water
*always stand behind the animal
*avoid using light colored clothes
*remove all the garbage you find (whether or not it is yours)
If you stay in an establishment near the beach where turtles lay their eggs:
*Remove any hammocks or any exterior furniture during the night so the turtle’s don’t get stuck on them
*switch off all external lights
*close all your curtains so no light gets out the windows
If you find yourself on a beach where there are or could be turtle eggs:
*don’t light bonfires (they could burn the eggs)
*don’t drive on the sand (you could crush the eggs)
*don’t stick umbrellas or other objects in the sand
*don’t make sand castles
*don’t let dogs loose
*if you have to walk on the beach do so at the water edge avoiding any dunes
When the eggs hatch:
*don’t use a flashlight because they can become disoriented, not reach the sea and die
*do not touch the hatchlings
*do not shine at them directly with the flashlight
*never place the hatchlings directly in the water (they could become disoriented)
There are many farms where the eggs that are laid are taken to, in order to guarantee their safety when there is a possibility of damage or of being stolen. Nevertheless some of these farms are purely commercial enterprises at the expense of the turtles. If you want to be sure to visit a center with legitimate intentions visit the “Turle Farm” section in our web page.
We have to be especially cautious not to acquire any souvenirs which are made from the skin or the shells of turtles. Although some are very obvious and labeled as “tortoishell” and “bekko”, other souvenirs (like the famous Indonesian puppets) use this material for the structure. Read more about souvenirs here.
See this interesting and comprehensive report on turtles and the tourism industry.