Every year, May 23rd is marked worldwide as World Turtle Day, calling to attention the critical need to conserve turtle species and their increasingly disappearing habitats. The Maldives is a hotspot to see these endangered creatures, with five out of seven existing turtle species gracing our waters. This year’s theme for the day is ‘I Love Turtles’ which hopes to underscore the importance of protecting turtles and the future of these species in the face of diminishing habitats.
In celebration of these vulnerable creatures, this article will explore the code of conduct that all avid explorers and snorkelers must follow when encountering a sea turtle in the Maldives. With a few simple steps, everyone can see these magnificent creatures up close and personal without disturbing them with our presence.
The first and foremost rule is to be quiet. When swimming close to a turtle it is of utmost importance to do so as quietly as possible since the turtles might be scared away by loud noises. For this purpose, snorkelers are advised to minimize talking and splashing when approaching a turtle. Similarly, watchers must not startle or disrupt the turtle’s natural behaviour during visits and are required to just watch and enjoy this rare sight.
Once snorkelers spot a sea turtle in the water, they should remember to swim towards it from a side. This will allow the creatures to get a clear view of the approaching individual and give them a clear path ahead if they choose to swim away. If the turtle decides to swim away, do not chase after the turtle as it might expose them to severe stress.
Additionally, snorkelers should pay special attention to ensure that they are not swimming directly above the turtles. Turtles are reptiles and therefore need to come to the surface to breathe, hence, it is vital to ensure that they are given room to do so. Even though snorkelers are tempted to pet the turtle it should be avoided at all costs as they do not enjoy being touched. They also pack a strong bite, so it is always safe to maintain a fair distance even when observing.
Lastly, turtle watchers must not attempt to feed the turtles. They are perfectly capable of finding food without others’ help and in doing so might even put the snorkeler at risk. With these guidelines to adhere to, turtle-watching is an activity that can be done anywhere in the Maldives.
Cover Picture Credit: The Olive Ridley Project