Thursday, September 3, 2015

Green Turtle Rescue

Our rib edged closer to the turtle which was clearly visible on the surface of the sea due to the fact that it had a large white bag wrapped around its neck. A few more metres and we would be able to catch the poor reptile, but it dived before a rescue could be attempted. We stood forlorn on our small boat in the vastness of the blue Atlantic. Turtles can dive for up to thirty minutes at a time so the chances of it surfacing nearby were remote indeed.

I had travelled to the popular holiday island of Tenerife with my girlfriend’s family for a well-earned break of sunshine, sea and, of course, wildlife watching. I had already caught up with some of the area’s endemic species such as Blue Chaffinch, Berthelot’s Pipit and Canary Island Chiffchaff and Canary Island Goldcrest, not to mention fantastic views of the resident Pilot Whales. But a local dive company was offering trips to snorkel with Green Turtles, a species I had never seen before, and I need little excuse to indulge my love of wildlife watching from boats so we booked four places.

The fast rib boat left the beautiful harbour at Los Gigantes overlooked by the precipitous cliffs that give the area it’s name. These cliffs hold a few pairs of breeding Osprey which are unfortunately a declining species in the Canaries but we had been lucky to see one at close quaters the previous day over the sea at Los Christianos. The flat calm sea was perfect for cetacean watching and we had only been out for ten minutes when a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins surrounded the boat. The skipper cut the engine and we all enjoyed the beauty of these graceful animals as they surfaced and dived within touching distance of the rib. But our main quarry, the Green Turtles where in a bay further to the west so we resumed our journey in the hot sub-tropical sunshine.

I was on the lookout for seabirds when I saw something shoot into the air from the surface of the water; a flying fish! It flashed silver and blue as it sped over the flat calm sea before crash landing a considerable distance from its launch spot. This was one of many sighting of these remarkable and surprising fish.

After half an hour we reached our destination, a quiet bay on the southwest coast of Tenerife. This area is a designated turtle sanctuary and any turtles that are caught in fishermen’s nets are released here. I was the first in the water and swam around most of the bay admiring the colourful fish that make this area their home. I have the skills to identify most birds but fish are a bit of a mystery to me, so I was happy to just enter their world and admire their colours and shapes without the desire to identify each individual. But where were the turtles?

Mike, the group leader, had said that on his last trip he had seen at least four Green Turtles swimming in the bay so he was surprised that we could not find any. But in the style of a good tour leader, he used his strength as a swimmer and scoured the whole area for turtles. Soon, his frantic waving from an area of open water just outside the bay indicated that he had found something, but was it a turtle? Using my flippers to power my usually slow swimming stroke I managed to reach Mike and a couple of other snorkelers in time to see a Green Turtle gliding away underwater. Its grace and beauty in its natural environment as it flapped it flippers and disappeared into the deep blue was in stark contrast to my floundering in the water. Unfortunately, because the turtle was close to the open sea only a few of the members of our trip managed to see this individual.

Time was pressing so we climbed back onto the rib and refreshed ourselves with fizzy drinks and crisps as we enjoyed the return trip along the coast.

I continued to scan for seabirds as we travelled and was intrigued by a small group of Yellow-legged Gulls that were investigating something floating on the surface. As we sped past I could see a white bag, but on closer inspection saw that a poor Green Turtle was caught in this man-made noose and would succumb to a lingering death if it could not be rescued.

The skipper turned the boat and Mike jumped in the water but unfortunately missed the turtle which naturally dived to escape capture. We sat on the calm waters for what seemed an age in the vague hope that it would resurface somewhere near the rib. And, miraculously it did just that, appearing on the surface less than ten metres away. Mike again readied himself for the attempted rescue, but as we got closer, one of our fellow snorkelers unexpectedly leapt into the water and executed a stunning capture. We helped him back onto the rib with his thrashing prize, being careful to avoid the frightened animal’s sharp beak. Once on board we realised that it was no ordinary plastic bag that had ensnared this turtle, but one composed of a synthetic mesh, like the type used in garden centres to hold soil or gravel, a robust fibre that would clearly have caused the demise of this reptile.

Unfortunately, despite extensive searching of the boat we had no items with us that were sufficiently sharp enough to cut away the bag. Yet again another intrepid member of the trip stepped forward and volunteered to bite his way through the offending bag! Naturally this took some time, and while our hero was nibbling away close to the neck of the turtle he quipped that normally he likes to take a girl to dinner before achieving that degree of intimacy!

Eventually the Green Turtle was freed from its noose and photos were taken before it was released gently back into the clear waters of the Canaries. A happy ending for this animal but many others suffer slow and lingering deaths due to our overuse of synthetic materials in our everyday lives and our carelessness when it comes to the disposal of this deadly waste.


You might also like:
Tortoise Rescue


No comments:

Post a Comment