There is always that defining moment that highlights the alternate world you enter when scuba diving. Feeling cumbersome and clumsy on the boat, there is a stark difference once you enter the water. Immediate relief and wonder take over at the moment of submersion. Silence envelops you as you hear nothing but your own deep, slow, guttural breathing.
The sheer remoteness of the Outer Islands of Seychelles and the drive of Blue Safari Seychelles to preserve one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, is immediately evident when one enters the atolls. The azure water brims with diversity, and there is an abundance of life to witness. The crystal clear waters make it all the easier to spot old favourites like Green Sea Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles.
Green Sea Turtles are widely known because their teardrop-shaped shells make them the largest shelled sea turtle in the world. These remarkable gentle giants can reach up to 1.2 meters in length and can weigh as much as 200 to 300 kg. Although large in size, Green Sea Turtles are generally quite shy herbivores.
The Hawksbill is identified by its curved beak and is slightly smaller than Green Turtles. A Hawksbill shell is also known to change colour slightly depending on the temperature of the water.
Along the Outer Islands, it is actually uncommon to not see a turtle on a dive. One could easily see close to 30 or 40 turtles on one dive and it’s actually easy to lose count. Various species of turtles can be found around the Outer Islands of Seychelles. One of the most interesting dive sites around here is Turtle Parade at Alphonse Island, which has recently turned into a cleaning station! The area experienced coral bleaching after El Niño so the dive site was rarely visited. Recently though the aqua-based staff started noticing turtles waiting in line for their turn of a deep cleanse offered by smaller aquatic life!
Searching for turtles is never a difficult endeavour in this area. Conservation efforts have resulted in turtle populations flourishing. Green Turtles can often be found resting at the bottom of the ocean or hiding on a small ledge with an overhang or large coral bommie. If they aren't resting they're feeding and can be found nibbling on turtle grass. The varied diet of the Hawksbill means they can be found wandering almost anywhere, from coral areas to even the flats.
If you are a novice swimming with turtles, there are a few necessary tips. The most important thing to remember when swimming with turtles is to always avoid swimming directly above turtles. Needing to surface for air, turtles may feel blocked from surfacing if you are above them.
As with most marine life, the rule of thumb is not to touch turtles and to always respect their space. If a turtle repeatedly swims away, take that as an indication that they are uncomfortable and rather leave them alone.
It is interesting to note that the Green and Hawksbill Turtles have quite different personalities. Greens are shyer by nature and easily spooked, so it can be difficult to get close to them - unless, of course, they are in the middle of a relaxing clean or sleeping. Larger adults can be quite inquisitive and might swim closer to find out what you are. Sometimes they can even mistake you for a potential mate! The Hawksbill, on the other hand, is easily approached if you move calmly through the water. Unlike other dive sites in the world where they might be skittish from being chased by excitable tourists, here they can even bump into you while swimming.
Swimming with these incredible creatures in such extraordinary numbers is a luxury that is unfortunately not shared around the world. Green and Hawksbill Turtles have been victim to overfishing. Hawksbill Turtles are listed as critically endangered and Green Turtles used to be widely hunted until laws surfaced to protect the disappearing species. The Blue Safari team has been fortunate to witness their numbers growing strongly in the area. Few areas today get to witness these amazing animals in the numbers that can be found in this remote corner of the Indian Ocean.
Fortunately, in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles, conservation makes up the backbone of every action. The marine safari experience is a rare window into a underwater world teaming with life, experienced harmoniously by people that are driven by a philosophy to protect this natural biome.