Should you decide to learn more about sea turtles, you will be able to get a lot of information about the different turtle species. Scientists have tagged them, so you can find out something about their migratory habits. You can learn about their nesting beaches. You can find out how much a hatchling weighs at birth, and even which flippers it uses to make a left turn. Still, the knowledge we humans have about these creatures is most uneven, perhaps dangerously so.
You'll notice that a large portion of what humans know about marine turtles centres around their nesting activity. This is because that is really the only time turtles come to humans--or at least, where humans can depend on them showing up.
This means there is plenty of information about hatchlings and the dangers they face. We know because we are there to observe. Once we lose sight of them from the nesting beach, they are gone, we know not where. Next to nothing is known about the years between their first swim and their arrival as recruits to their feeding grounds. These are called the "lost years."
What is offered here is information you won't find in scientific journals or most sea turtle articles because, frankly, it isn't completely scientific. It is, however, based on hundreds of dives in an area that is home to a significant number of turtles. We like turtles and we pay close attention to all things turtle. We present this online collection because this is the kind of information we were longing for back when we met our first turtles.
In his wonderful book Time of the Turtle, Jack Rudloe compares turtle brains to those of dinosaurs. He leaves the impression of creatures driven primarily by instinct, capable of little intelligence. We don't know how smart they really are, but after numerous hours watching these creatures in their natural habitat, we do know this much.
Turtles, like humans, can have different personalities and we believe their behaviour reflects their own life experiences, just as ours does. Once we were able to tell them apart, it became clear that each turtle is an individual. With that discovery has come a most rewarding and remarkable realization.
Research and conservation literature usually discusses the species as a whole. Precious little has been written about individual turtles. Yes, there was comment about the female green turtle with the record for the most nesting, and the man who claimed to swim with the same turtle each day, recognizing her even though she bears no tags. (We believe him because that is what we do.)
We hope to rectify that. A typical summer for us logs in just over 40 turtles, of which some we only see once and will never see again, some we will see each day all one summer, never to be seen again, and roughly two dozen who are there year after year.
In fact, we call them "regulars", that core group of sea turtles resident at our dive site. Of these, over 70% have tumors! We have read about fibropapilloma tumors and we know this disease also occurs in Florida and the Bahamas as well as Hawaii.
Knowing that the beautiful green sea turtle is facing yet another threat to its survival is sad enough. When it occurs to "friends", animals we have known for years, that feeling is hard to describe. There is a kind of frantic helplessness and pity all mixed in together.
We've read about the effects of this disease on the species. We've experienced its effects on individuals. You'll never see this in a scientific account, because what we say here is not scientific, but we know this to be true:
While the disease threatens the survival of the species, it is individuals who are suffering and dying.
Turtle Trax was created with this in mind. It is a celebration of the individual. It tells, and we hope will continue to tell, the story of the individuals. Sadly, because of situations which seem to be beyond anyone's control, we expect the stories to be about growing sick, weakening, and dying.
We urge you to read Turtle Trax Who's Who. There we relate some of what we know about the "regulars" who have made our dive site their home.
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
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