Day of Discovery

  • 23 June 2015 | By Turtle Bay Beach Club

Discovering a New Direction in Watamu

I’m down at Watamu and it’s time for opening my eyes. It’s so easy to keep them closed chilling to the soporific sounds of waves washing the beach. It’s the reason I’m here, quiet, friendly, relaxed – just right for a quick recharge, but I’ve been here enough to have picked up a subtle undercurrent. While my eyes are closed little possibilities are sneaking past, and I’d rather they didn’t. It’s the little moments in life, unplanned, transient, sometimes just a glimpse, but always special. You can carry them around and bring them out when a smile is needed. A moment shared or a moment to yourself, it’s the surprise and joy that provides that special place. It’s your moment and no one can take it, only share it.

So I’m on a mission. My eyes were closed but one ear was open and I’ve discovered Hank is going to be released. This sounds fun so quick plans find me at the place of custody. But this place is different. While the inmates are in custody, the wardens are definitely custodians. Custodians of turtles as this is the home of Local Ocean Trust and today Hank, a small green turtle is going to be released.

Learning about Turtles with Kahindi at Local Ocean Trust

But drawn in by this success I discover the dark side. These turtles are having a tough time out there and they need friends badly. There are five different species of turtle that swim past Watamu, and some of those stop to lay their eggs. Green turtles like Hank are the most common here but classified as endangered so in this case common is also rare. Olive Ridleys, Leatherbacks (up to 900 Kg can you believe – this is a serious amount of turtle), Hawksbills and Loggerheads also come by. They run a gauntlet of dangers on our shores, getting caught in nets, poached for food, damaged by propellers, ingesting plastic that they mistake for jellyfish – an eyesore for us but deadly to a turtle.

Yes it’s tough being a turtle. It’s estimated that of a thousand eggs hatched maybe one will get to see life as an adult. So the team where I am is at the forefront of trying to make sure we can carry on seeing these beautiful creatures. It’s a fight on many fronts. Fixing sick and hurt turtles is just one side of the coin with its joy of release and sadness when despite all the effort a species becomes just that little bit more endangered. Getting involved in the front line, ensuring an entangled turtle is saved for release rather than the pot, helping clean up the mountain of plastic that sails the ocean and is ejected on our beaches, just helping people understand that they really should care, can care, that turtles do matter. Yes it’s tough being dedicated to turtles as well.

Ready to Release Hank into the Wild...

But this was meant to be fun and Hank is going home. Having been returned to strength it’s time to move on. Kahindi and Arthur are today’s liberation force and we’re in celebrity zone here. Kahindi has appeared in the BBC’s Africa series, and deals with such stars as David Attenborough and small children with ruthless charm and kindness.  Carefully removed from his tank and put in harness he’s taken on a short drive to a secluded beach nearby. I’m amazed by his calm serenity. It seems he trusts his custodians, benefactors not jailors, friends, saviours. He waits calmly as if he knows the end to this story. At the beach a spot is chosen – clear and clean. He has space, everyone is back. He smells the sea, home, freedom. It’s where he belongs. The harness is released a little from the shore. He knows what to do. No panicked flight but a determined march he heads directly for home. And then he is gone. In the flash as he reaches the water and disappears I see the colours transformed. The

Into the Great Blue yonder...

grey is shed for a beautiful rich terracotta and greens.

My mission has moved. I got more than I expected today, learned a bit more, care a bit more. Seeing that flash of beauty as he disappeared I do need to think about diving. It’s good around Watamu and to really see a turtle properly you have to go to their home. And there’s the chance of whale shark or manta ray. Now that would be impressive. But I also have a mission to see the first steps of a turtle.

The breaking free of the sand, the dash to the relative safety of the sea, and maybe, just maybe to see that one in a thousand that will come back in a few decades to start the cycle again.

Story by Peter Derry staying at Turtle Bay Beach Club

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