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Some Turtle Do's, Donít's and Where to Find Them

By: John Chandler

Date Posted: 2001-03-02

Where are all the turtles? This may be the number one question that I get asked by dive buddies here on Okinawa. This review may help you locate and observe one of the most enchanting reptiles in our oceans, the turtle.

The only type I have seen and photographed on Okinawa are Green Sea Turtles. While not the largest of reptiles the Green Sea Turtle can, and often does mature into a large creature.

If you are fortunate enough to locate a turtle you may be tempted to try and hitch a ride on some of the larger ones. While you see this on TV all the time it is not a good idea. Remember that turtles, just like us, are air breathers. Imagine that you are skin diving and someone your size, or even larger, decides to hitch a ride on you at 50 feet? So please look, enjoy, but do not touch. Essentially you increase their metabolism to a point that will tire the turtle out. Their best defense against attack is speed so when tired they are in danger. You may not know what happens 20 minutes later when the turtle needs that burst of speed in his defense. Just admire their streamlined beauty.

Observing their speed and power may be your next surprise. It always amazes me. These ancient seafarers can actually swim much faster than we lowly land lubbers. Observe the shape of the turtle for just a moment. They are really streamlined. While they are pretty clunky on shore these creature can, and often do, put on bursts of speed that few, if any, SCUBA divers can keep up with.

If you spot a turtle your best bet will be to remain calm and stationary. Let them come to you, they will be just as curious as you. But if you start swimming at them with excitement and vigor they will interpret that as aggression, which we all know is not good. I have had turtles actually lay right in my lap while photographing them. They can be very accommodating and wonderful dive buddies if you remain calm.

So where are all the turtles? Here is a recap of what I have experienced on Okinawa.

1. Maeda Point. Frequent contact on the outer, or second reef. It is about 150 yards from the "classroom area" and rises up from the sandy bottom within 50 yards of the mooring buoy just offshore from the cave. A nice green sea turtle with a really clean shell has been living in this area for about three months.

2. Kadena Steps in the sand about 200 yards off the reef break between the shore and the fishing blocks. Refer to my article on Mizumgama last month. A nice large Green Sea Turtle is often seen flying by in this area. But remember these guys roam the seven seas so please don't throw empty tanks at me if you do not see one here.

3. Sand Island (half way to the Keramas) on the south side. Here, in the sand and away from the reef, you are almost sure to be able to watch turtles swimming in and among the coral fingers streaming down from the island. This has been very dependable and very exciting for lots of divers who have joined me on boat dives. During the winter Sand Island has been the most common place for me to spot turtles flying up from the depths to see what is going on across the reef. It is a great place to dive too.

4. I always suggest the excitement found in the islands beyond the Keramas. Tonaki Island, just beyond the Keramas, has on its eastern shore, and just in front of its harbor, an area that has produced plenty of turtle photographs. If you can get out that way it is great!

5. Lastly, I have to recommend the wonders found on the reef at Channel Crevices. Just last Sunday I swam with and photographed a wonderful Green Sea Turtle that was gliding in and out of the crevices on that amazing reef structure. So we end here at the southern tip of Okinawa and find that even here the Turtles are just waiting for you.

While there is no sure way of spotting a turtle there is a sure way not to spot one. Diving in large groups will certainly cause a turtle to turn tail and run away from the ever-increasing sound of your exhaling bubbles. A good buddy team with loads of patience should have better luck than a posse of wild divers driving the reef in search these elusive creatures.

I hope you have as much luck as I have enjoyed. Please remember your manners and enjoy their presence. To see more pictures of these awesome dive buddies please click on my web site at www.jwchandler.com See you at the beach. I will be the bald guy with the Turtle Lover's Guidebook in his hands.

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