There is always that defining moment that highlights the alternate world you enter when scuba diving. Feeling cumbersome and clumsy on the boat with the inflated BCD, oxygen tank, weight belt and the various other pipes poking out from your bodice; then there is a stark difference once you enter the water. Immediate relief and wonder take over at the moment of submersion. Silence envelopes you as you hear nothing but your own deep, slow guttural breathing. Then a feeling of weightlessness takes over. The experience is filled with even more wonder when you witness an underwater world that has been untouched and uninterrupted.
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 evident immediately. Brimming with diversity in azure waters, there is an abundance of life to witness. The crystal clear waters make it all the easier to spot old favorites 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 weight up to 200 to 300 kg. Although large in size, Green Sea Turtles are generally quite shy herbivores. The Hawksbill is noticeable by its curved beak and it is slightly smaller than Green Turtles. A Hawksbill shell is also known to change color slightly depending on the temperature of the water.
Along the outer islands, it is uncommon to not see a turtle on a dive. Not uncommon is seeing close to 30 or 40 turtles on one dive or losing count. Most turtles can often be guaranteed to be found around Alphonse Island. One of the most interesting dive sites around here is Turtle Parade, which has recently turned into a cleaning station! The area experienced coral bleaching after El Nino so the dive site was rarely visited. Until the aqua-based staff started noticing turtles waiting in line for their turn of a deep cleanse offered by smaller aquatic life!
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 then there are a few necessary tips. The most important thing to remember when swimming with turtles is to always avoid swimming directly above them. 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 them 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. Sometimes larger adults can also be quite inquisitive so they will swim close 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 these 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 strong 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 an underwater world teeming with life, experienced harmoniously by people that are driven by a philosophy to protect this natural biome.