There are no scuba divers that do not enjoy diving with turtles. As we mentioned in the diving with sharks blog, everybody has their favorite critters, but turtles are always going to be near the top of that list. Needless to say, they are also near-perfect subjects for the Paralenz!
Species of Turtle
Turtles are reptiles of the order Testudines, which also includes tortoises and terrapins. There are two families of turtle, the hard-shelled Cheloniidae, and the soft-shelled Dermochelyidae. There are six species of Cheloniidae: the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead (Caretta caretta), olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) and the flatback (Natator depressus). The only member of the Dermochelyidae family is the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).
The six species of hard-shelled turtles are poikilothermic (sometimes called ‘cold-blooded’), which means their body temperature changes to match the surrounding water. This is why most turtles are found in tropical waters. The leatherback is endothermic, or ‘warm-blooded’, and has been found in much colder water. Leatherbacks are the only warm-blooded reptiles known to exist.
Encounters with Turtles
The two species most commonly encountered across the world’s tropical reefs are green turtles and hawksbill turtles. By and large, the turtles will be young adults or older. Many people will delight in watching videos of baby turtles hatching and flapping towards the sea in a riot of unbearable cuteness. Sadly, most will not survive, and those that do head out into the open ocean. Depending on the species, they will return to the reefs between five and ten years later.
Turtles will often ignore the presence of divers, especially on reefs that are regularly dived. Green turtles, which can grow up to 1.5m/5ft in length, are especially chilled. Their favorite diet is seagrass, and they will let divers get fairly close while they munch away on the leaves. The smaller hawksbill prefers to chomp away on sponges, coral, and jellyfish.
This does not mean that divers should charge in for a picture every time they see a turtle! In most cases, the animal will simply swim away, which spoils the sighting for everybody. Smaller, younger turtles might panic, however. They will try to hide under cracks in the reef and sometimes get stuck. Turtles need to surface to breathe, so if they can’t escape, they will drown. If you see this happening, back of a distance, observe the turtle until it comes out of hiding, and let it swim away.
Taking Photos and Videos
The general rule of thumb for most animal encounters is to keep 2-3m away and let it approach you. Turtles will let you get very close and take some awesome shots, but always make sure the animal has an escape route and is not surrounded by underwater paparazzi.
The Paralenz 3rd-person viewer is extremely handy for making a close-up video when you’re diving with turtles. The attachment at the end of the 1.8m extendable pole can swivel almost 360°, so you can use it as a ‘selfie-stick’, or for getting close to marine life without scaring it. A diver is two meters of metal and plastic and bubbles and noise, but a Paralenz is 11.6cm/4.5″ long!
Finally – all seven species of turtle are endangered. Although we spot them quite frequently, hawksbill turtles are listed as ‘critically endangered’. Taking and sharing great pictures and videos can help spread awareness, but never let the camera become more important than the creature.
Got some great videos of turtles you want to share with the world? Why not send us some of your favorites at the Paralenz World Facebook page!