Unafraid: The Green Sea Turtles of La Jolla Cove
By Emily Skinner
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. Please visit our Loggerhead Lowdown blog here over the next week as some of our writers and STPS members describe their own experiences with sea turtles in the water.
Visibility: Five feet, if you are lucky. Water temperature: numbingly cold, wetsuits required. The view: absolutely worth it. Hidden among the rocks and sea grasses of La Jolla Cove near San Diego, CA, lives a small population of juvenile to subadult green sea turtles. Overlooked by most ecotourism groups in favor of the playful harbor seals and sea lions, and the influx of sharks that breeds in the area different times of the year, these young green sea turtles can be difficult to find unless you know an expert. Luckily, my friends and I knew quite a few.
A few friends in the area spend their time studying this small population and gladly took us out into the frigid waters to see this unique population of sea turtles. Most green sea turtles in the wild don’t mind human attention in the water but will swim away if you get too close. These sea turtles, however, not only didn’t mind our presence, but ignored it. After fanning out to search the area for these sea turtles in the low visibility water, snorkeling against the incoming waves and searching for any movement among the shifting sands below us, we finally found one of the residents.
This sea turtle happened to be one that our friends knew well as a particularly bold sea turtle. We spent some time following the turtle from a respectful distance as it picked algae off the rocks along the bottom, maybe 10 feet below us. Gradually, the turtle moved to slightly shallower waters, so our friends who knew the population well said we could dive down and get a group picture without bugging the turtle. While trying this, we learned just how unaffected the little turtle was by our presence.
While floating at the surface, it was difficult to do quick, nimble movements against the currents. So, when this sea turtle decided it was time to take a breath, it decided to swim right through us to do so. This sea turtle truly did not care whether we were there or not, nearly swimming right into one of my friends. A bold, unafraid sea turtle indeed. When it returned to the bottom, we quickly moved out of the turtle’s path once more, as it seemed set to smack us with its flippers.
While we only spotted one sea turtle that day, our bold new friend is not the only resident of the area. Several other green sea turtles call this area home, although most residents and tourists don’t even know these incredible animals are right beneath them. So, the next time you are in San Diego, take a day to look for these sassy little sea turtles. Despite the chilly water temperatures, these Pacific green sea turtles enjoy their habitats, and have different behaviors to cope with the sometimes less than optimal water temperatures. These include finding shallower, warmer waters and partially burrowing under the sand to keep warm. So, if you go looking for these elusive critters, that moving rock may be a hiding sea turtle, or it may just be a rock. Either way, searching for these beautiful Pacific green sea turtles among the other ocean creatures calling the area home is sure to be an adventure.