Turtle Love

by Natalie Novak  (April 2012)

When I take people diving for the first time, I advise them not to touch, tease, or harass any underwater organisms. Coral is alive, and touching that colorful rock WILL kill it. Even tiny creatures deserve our respect. The rule with aquatic life is the stripper rule. (Strangely enough, everyone seems to know what this is before I tell them.) You cannot touch them, but they can touch you. And (as I hear it is with the aforementioned), the odds are that you won't be touched!

It has been my experience that, underwater, most animals will run away from you, or swim away, or crawl away, as they feel your approach (if they can). Even reef sharks and giant loggerhead turtles weighing hundreds of pounds will move away from us as we approach. If you stop and remain calm, you can sometimes get underwater animals to ignore you and go about their business. That is our goal—to have a green turtle swim by relaxed, or sit next to a grouper as it is being cleaned by the tiny fish that hang out in coral heads. If, when you see a fish, it speeds up to get away from you, slow down and do not try and get so close! Your time with the animals will be longer if they do not feel harassed.

Green turtles are generally shy, and the ones in Akumal Bay are too often bothered by people so they tend to be rather skittish. On the other hand, loggerhead turtles can be very curious in mating season, which is just beginning. Hawksbill turtles are often very cool, and will occasionally swim alongside us for a few minutes, before they return to their search for sponges.

I have never seen anything like what happened to Ivan on a recent dive. Ivan was taking three beginners on their first dive and I went along to take pictures. It was an average day at the start, and we took our time descending gently down a line to 40 feet of water together as a group. About halfway through the dive, Ivan spotted a hawksbill turtle swimming just above the reef. He turned and signaled "turtle" to his divers, then stopped swimming to let the animal pass. That is when I started taking pictures.

You can see by Ivan's position in the water, that he was not moving when the turtle slowly ambled over toward him. In fact, the hawksbill changed direction to go to Ivan. Ivan relaxed and was mesmerized by the patterns on its face and legs. The turtle stared back at Ivan unafraid, and approached him until they were eye to eye. Then the turtle slowly opened his mouth and bit Ivan's mask. He even gave it a little shake before releasing it and gently swimming on his way. It was an amazing moment. I doubt this would have happened if Ivan had approached the turtle or moved as the turtle approached him. It was beautiful to watch this moment of mutual curiosity play out between two kindred spirits. And I am so happy to have the photos of it to share with you.
Dive with Natalie & Ivan. Remember to book us online, because we spend our time underwater.