The Hawksbill

It’s the hawksbill sea turtle which is lurking in our anchorage. Eretmochelys imbricata. Not that it’s lurking. I just keep coming across this beautiful animal. Like the turtle is here to hang out with me. Homo sapien wish.

Behind and 8-10m below Quest is a coral reef garden. And hawksbill turtles are coral reef-inhabiting turtles. They are not the green turtle who eat the tropical sea grass, hence their flesh being a greenish colour. They are not the loggerhead sea turtle who are stout and tough and essentially carnivorous. They aren’t even the enormous and more evolutionarily primitive leatherback. The leatherback is the great jellyfish migration-maker.

The hawksbill turtle is all about the coral. But they don’t eat it. Hawksbills are specialist sponge eaters. And when I mean sponges, bath sponges are definitely out. I mean the hard and unforgiving stuff made out of glass spicules. These sponges are themselves tough as nails, often terribly toxic and not exactly an attractive looking food source.

Tell that to the hawksbills. The ones I see in our anchorage have their heads firmly rooted between the coral. They have longer, wrinkly necks. I watch them crane around corners like they’re permanently looking for something.

I have to swim to stay in one place above them. They don’t seem to pay me any mind either – until they start to ascend. Then one black eye pierces me while they rise. If I have a camera, they shoot off. Perhaps the shininess of it is what bothers them. Maybe they think it’s a speargun. If I have no camera and stay still though, minding my p’s and q’s, they don’t seem to mind me.

One came right up to fellow cruiser, Shona and I near Shona’s boat, S/V White Arrow a few days ago. We’d been watching for a while. It rose, and the black eye fixed on us. Then, at the surface, it came closer. Really close. Its pointy beak almost touched my nose. To be honest, I was a little scared. Not sure about Shona, but I was.

Then the hawksbill ducked and swam right underneath us. I didn’t stroke it with the whole ‘respect for a wild animal thing’ (aka proper Ron Weasley face) but I did put my hand out after it had passed. It felt rude not to.

The next day, I found another hawksbill. It gave me dirty looks every time I tried to click with my camera. When I hid the camera behind my arm, it stopped and stared at me with perhaps a grain of hope. Eventually – after the fifteenth time I tried to take its photo, it expelled a turtle poop in my direction. And whoosh. It really took off this time.

The lesson? If I want to photograph a hawksbill sea turtle, then I don’t get to be friends with it. But if I want to just watch the most beautiful, most bedazzling-shelled turtle of all, I’ll have to just keep its picture in my mind’s eye. Or I’m going to get pooped on. At least I got one photo.

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