Island Times Blog

Traveling Time with Turtles

November 12th, 2013 by Aly |

Hello everyone, my name is Aly! I completed my ShIP internship last summer (my fifth voyage with SeaTrek.) Since I know many of the readers here have never been to SeaTrek, I’m going to try and recreate a scenario for you that involves a turtle, so enjoy! For some reason, my stories about SeaTrek are always difficult to tell. My parents always ask me for stories, and I can never seem to explain the uniqueness that is SeaTrek, so I am going to ask you to bear with me.

Imagine the crystal blue waters of the Virgin Islands surrounding you, the sounds of people in the water and SeaTrek staff members answering questions about everything from biology to diving to how we are planning on cooking the meal that evening. A couple of kids and a staff member from one of our other boats are paddling up in kayaks to say “hi” and a girl is on the bow waving to them. A soft breeze brings to life the SeaTrek flag that proudly flies high above our yacht, and the sun warms every inch of us from our heads to our toes. It’s busy yet comfortable.

The sounds of our everyday boat life is interrupted by the loud crackle of a radio call that is coming in on one of the program boat radios. It’s from a turtle tagging team out on a dingy. An excited voice is announcing to us that a turtle has been caught and the team is heading to our boat! Roger that! There is more space in the cockpit of large, stable vessels SeaTrek uses than there is on a dinghy, so turtles are often taken there. Immediately, the laid back mood on board shifts and things are hurriedly set up for the special guest. Students snorkeling near the boat throw their gear on the bow and hurry over to watch the action. The kayakers paddle up close to the boat to watch and listen. A complete silence of awe replaces the sounds of excitement as soon as the turtle tagging team arrives. The only sounds you can hear are the laps of the waves on the nearby shore and the occasional whispered “wow” escaping from a first year student seeing a turtle this close for the first time. It’s a moment of wonder and compassion and in that long silence, our understanding of the world around us, and a true empathy for the creatures on it begin a transformation within us that we all (in retrospect) agree never fades with time.

After placing it comfortably on a padded surface we’ve prepared, we use a hand-held scanner and wave it over the creature to see if it has ever been caught and electronically tagged before. We also record its tag number. After data points are collected and measurements are taken and retaken, we give the turtle a name, wish it well in our minds and hearts, and release it right back where it was caught. We are careful to make sure that the turtle takes one last breath before we send it back into the water where it will return to its tropical life of water gliding. Cleaning up, everyone is still a little taken aback by what just happened when Captain Monk breaks the silence and makes some corny joke about how we let dinner go. Everyone smiles and the chatter starts up again. We expect his corny jokes. I usually just respond with a roll of my eyes and grin. I love it here.

The set of pictures below are a collage I put together of me with sea turtles in my four different years of tagging turtles with SeaTrek. It’s a timeline along a journey I’ve shared with many other SeaTrekkers. I actually can’t begin to tell you how happy turtle tagging makes me, but maybe our smiles will give you a hint.

If you saw the images and thought, “Hey, I want to hold a sea turtle!”, you’ve come to the right place because we all understand. Everybody loves sea turtles, but it would be irresponsible of me to not tell you that it is both inhumane and illegal to touch one in the wild. At SeaTrek, our staff attends training and is issued permits by the government to legally help record this Caribbean sea turtle population. As a result, students get to be trained too and can help tag and monitor sea turtles without feeling badly about touching the marine life or fear of breaking laws. The information on each turtle is delivered by our biologists to the BVI Conservation and Fisheries Department and is added to other sources of information to help create a big picture of what needs to be done to preserve this beautiful ecosystem. Can you believe it? As young students, we’re getting to help protect these magnificent creatures.

If you can’t tell by the faces, we’re having a great time!

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