Sometimes the funny stories don’t really reflect the sad reality…, I was just about to take a photo of a sea turtle going after a jelly fish in the Ava’avaroa Passage on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. As I was moving closer, I realized it wasn’t a jelly fish but a plastic bag. I’ve heard all about turtles choking to death from all the plastics in the sea but for me it was first actually seeing it about to happen.
There is always a current running out to sea in the passage and some days lots of jellyfish get swept along; the turtles wait in the current and grab them as they pass. It’s quite cool to see the turtles going after the blue bottle jellyfish as it reminds me of people bobbing for apples at a party, it can be very funny.
There’s quite a few different varieties of jellies coming down and so when I saw this turtle head over towards one I didn’t think much of it, until I realised it was a plastic bag, I had visions of the turtle suffocating and drowning. This put me in a photographer pickle because it was a chance to get a ‘human impact’ photo, but it wasn’t worth watching a turtle die for! Too late! It had taken the plastic bag and was swimming away.
After pushing the shutter button, sighing as I knew they were all going to be blurry photos, I hooked the camera onto my weight belt and swam after the turtle. This may sound easy but with strong current and a camera strapped to you it’s really not. Add to this the fact that the turtle didn’t want to be caught and I didn’t want to touch the turtle in case I caused it any harm; suffice to say it was a bit of a faff.
When I finally caught up with the turtle I was running out of breath and it was down about 5m deep choking on the bag. I managed to grab the bag and we had this funny tug of war thing going. It was panicking, I was panicking, and the bag was stuck and wouldn’t let go.
I was thinking at the time, wow I’ve really made it in life, here I am getting swept along in the passage, playing tug of war with a turtle over a plastic bag and running out of air, just doesn’t get any better than this….
I finally managed to get the bag out of the turtle’s mouth, (turtles don’t have teeth but very sharp keratin serrated edges on their jaw and it was these the bag was caught on). I don’t think the turtle was very pleased, it swam away not looking impressed at all. I was thankful just to be able to come up for air.
Seeing it on the internet and then actually seeing it in reality was a bit of a personal wakeup call to keep trying to limit the amount of plastic I use personally and contribute into the environment. I guess the reality is that with so much plastic being brought into these little island paradises eventually a lot of this ends up in the sea.
And in the mouth of turtles like this.
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