Diving With Sea Turtles
By Katherine De Angelis
Editor’s Note: Here in Central Florida, we are most familiar with sea turtles on our beaches during nesting season, yet these marine creatures can be encountered in the water as well. Today’s post focuses on where and how best to enjoy such an encounter yourself. Please visit our Loggerhead Lowdown blog here over the next few weeks as some of our writers and STPS members describe their own experiences with sea turtles in the water.
Sea turtles are beloved around the world and have become a popular tourist excursion in many areas including Florida, Mexico, Hawaii, the Maldives, the Great Barrier Reef, Egypt, and the Cayman Islands, just to name a few. Snorkeling and scuba diving leave fond memories with those who participate in these activities. The world’s seas and oceans have so much to offer for those willing to explore it, including sea turtles and many other types of marine life.
When diving with sea turtles, the possibilities for memorable moments are endless. Depending on where you dive, you may encounter a variety of sea turtle species. For example, when diving along the coasts of Florida where five species nest, you have the potential to see a Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, leatherback, green, or loggerhead depending on where you dive.
Sea turtles are gentle creatures with curious attitudes. They will not shy away from swimming around divers and will, on some occasions, even approach divers. This is true especially in areas where diving is common. Adult sea turtles are timid creatures, meaning that if they approach you when diving you should move gently and cautiously. As a diver, you are a guest in the sea turtle’s home, not the other way around. Sea turtles are fairly slow creatures, gliding along the reef at roughly a mile an hour pace. If they feel threatened, however, they will make a short sprint of about 30 kilometers an hour. According to an article from Outpost magazine, the best way to swim with a cruising sea turtle is to approach it slowly, swim parallel to it, and match its cruising pace while keeping a respectful distance to let the turtle know that you are not a threat. After a few moments, you can begin to inch closer to the creature as it grows more comfortable with your presence. If the turtle begins to speed off, do not chase it. That just means the turtle became spooked. Turtles are gentle creatures who are happy to share their ocean with us, and it is up to us to respect their home and them.
When diving with turtles, there are rules, etiquette, and tools at your disposal to keep both yourself, the turtles, and the other marine life you are visiting safe, happy, and healthy. Here are a few things to keep in mind to keep yourself and the turtles safe:
- Don’t touch! In many areas, like the United States, sea turtles are protected by law through the Endangered Species Act and are not to be touched when encountered. This act also protects them from harassment, hunting, or disturbance.
- Keep your distance! When you’re napping or just resting in your home, would you like to be disturbed? I don’t believe so. Well, neither would sea turtles. As a diver, you must remember that you are a guest in the turtle’s home and you must respect them and their space. Treat their home like you would want someone to treat yours.
- Don’t leave a mess! Whether it be in the water or on the shores, make sure to pick up and properly dispose of any waste you may have. Pollution can be eaten by marine life and stays in the water for many years, if not decades.
- Flash Photography is a Big No. While the topic of flash photography is a controversial one and is even illegal in some countries, it is still something people do. When flash photography is used on turtles, both in and out of the water, it can temporarily blind or disorient them. If using flash, only do so from behind and not directly in front of their head.
- Use a biodegradable and non-harmful sunscreen! Most sunscreens have an ingredient called oxybenzone that is contributing to the bleaching of coral reefs. Before taking a dip, look up some great articles like this one with reef and ocean-friendly sunscreen brands that are safe for the environment
- HAVE FUN! Swimming with turtles is the adventure of a lifetime. Enjoy it!
The ocean is a vast and beautiful place with an incredible array of wildlife to encounter. Sea turtle are among some of the most beloved. It is the responsibility of humans to both appreciate them and protect them. Sea turtle dives are a crucial part of the conservation efforts in many areas and contribute to the ever-evolving knowledge we gain about these incredible creatures.
Hoover, Pierce, et al. “Everything You Need to Know About Diving with Sea Turtles.” Outpost Magazine, 4 Aug. 2017, https://outpostmagazine.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-diving-with-sea-turtles/.
“Info: Sea Turtles – Can I Touch or Ride Them?.” Hawaii Ocean Ambassadors (HOA), 18 May 2016, http://www.hawaiioceanambassadors.com/beach-clean-ups/info-sea-turtles-can-i-touch-or-ride-them.
McMahon, Shannon, et al. “What Your Sunscreen Is Doing to the Environment.” SmarterTravel, SmarterTravel, 19 June 2019, https://www.smartertravel.com/what-sunscreen-does-to-the-environment/.
Zhekova, Dobrina, and Dobrina Zhekova. “How to Know If Your Sunscreen Is Killing Coral Reefs – and the Brands to Try Instead.” Travel Leisure, 8 Oct. 2019, https://www.travelandleisure.com/style/beauty/reef-safe-sunscreen.