SeaTurtle.org links volunteer travelers to many exciting websites that support turtle conservation, both through direct donation and through opportunities for ethical vacationing. Voluntourism in support of sea turtles gives us real opportunities for self-development, to make a difference, to participate in scientific research, and to connect with the water and animals.
Swimming in the ocean is itself a brand of stimulation that is captured by no other medium. The current is dynamic, and the gentle rocking of the waves imparts a rhythmic sensation that reminds us, in some intangible way, of childhood. The floor beneath us is not composed of tile or synthetics; it is unpredictable and alive.
Swimming with a living thing intensifies the experience. Those who have been in the water with sea turtles tell us that they are about as intelligent as dogs are – or, at least, they interact with us in similar ways.
One swimmer, a frequent traveler, told us that she admires the intelligence of sea turtles. She remarked that some sea turtles swim away from you, and can easily move away from even the fastest human swimmer. Other turtles show active curiosity, interest, and even apparent friendship.
She spoke of one sea turtle she met in Hawaii, the size of the hood of your car, that came up next to her and followed her everywhere, occasionally stopping to much plant material off of the tops of rocks. It frolicked with her for 45 minutes, until she got out of the water. The next day, the same turtle found her again! And again it swam with her until she left the beach.
Another time, she swam alongside a huge turtle until another one came up and, gently, bracketed her left and right. The waves left her with little clearance to the rocks below. She tried to back out from between them directly, and guess what happened? A third turtle came up from behind her, playfully boxing her in. Yes, they let her go after a few minutes.
Your local aquarium isn’t likely to rent you goggles, although the AquaDream aquarium in Morocco might. We’re not going to interact safely with the wildlife on a hike into the Cascade Mountains. In Hawaii, there is a $500 fine for touching a sea turtle; the locals don’t specify what the fine is if they touch you…
The thrill of a volunteer trip to conserve sea turtles is the connection with the wildlife itself. If swimming with turtles is a “bucket experience,” what would we say about the chance to handle them, to clean them, and to interact with them?
Biologists preserve eggs and baby turtles with a touch more delicate than a jeweler’s. Here is a dig from Gulf Breeze, Florida (video source: Flickr). Eggs are carefully packed with the native beach sand for transport to the Kennedy Space Center for hatching.
We’ve had our vacations focused on pure recreation. If we’re ready to connect with the geography, environment, people and animals of a destination, with giving back and volunteering the primary focus, sea turtle conservation projects deliver.