Scores of stingrays swarmed around us, their soft smooth bodies slithering around us and obscuring our vision in a cloud of gray. That was in only 6 feet of lagoon water on the north side of Moorea, the island just west of Tahiti. Tourist boats come daily to feed the stingrays and give their snorkeling guests a fun in the water experience, up close and very touchable. But I never would have guessed the same could be done with sea turtles.
Here on the north side of Redang island, in Malaysia, boats come in the morning full of snorkeling tourists and chopped up fish and squid. The turtles had a fascination with the silvery glint in my camera lens. When they approached too close, I had to turn it away or they would bite at it. Once when I was not looking, a turtle came up from my side and bit down on the camera but catching more of my pointer finger. The turtles are not used to their food pulling back so he let go without much of a struggle but leaving a slightly bleeding laceration. The tour boat drivers are constantly warning the snorklers not to wave their fingers around in the water.
There are people who would be disturbed to hear turtles have become a tourist attraction and are hand fed. Feeding wild animals is not always a good idea but for sea turtles, I agree with the Malaysians; the turtles have been decimated by over fishing, egg poaching and disappearance of habitat. They need all the help they can get, including some extra grub. Plus, the encounter gives the tourists a better understanding of what cool animals they are and so, are more inclined to help with their conservation.
This morning, the white beach had fresh turtle tracks leading to the brush line. There is where the turtle spent a lot of effort digging a deep depression then burring its eggs. Even though I was on the beach at first light, human foot prints were already planted around the new nest. I couldn’t really tell if the nest had been disturbed. It would be helpful if we had a heavy rain to wash away the tracks and help obscure the newness of the nest.