Swimming with the turtles is like playing the waiting game. The waters at Coco Bay, Green Turtle Cay (GTC) aren’t as transparent as the waters The Bahamas normally boasts about. It’s a deep aquamarine blue, that still rivals some of the best in the world, but it’s not translucent enough to know what’s coming at you or when.
Then I hear it ─ a faint snapping sound. Unsure of where it’s coming from, I look down, and I think I see it, but I can’t be too sure as no one else is getting excited. I’m positive if anyone saw what I’m positive I saw, the noise levels would have increased; the voices would no longer be hushed, and the cameras would be out.
At this very moment, Sarah, my Green Turtle guide, begins to hand out squid explaining that these are to be used to attract the turtles, as turtles love squid. Jesse, Sarah’s husband, gives a quick demonstration on how the squid is used to bring in the turtles with an equally fair warning that turtles aren’t completely harmless. With the demonstration being done, pieces of squid held by excited kids and adults begin to slip into the water and within minutes, we’re surrounded by green turtles.
It took me a minute to be sure of which kind of turtles I was surrounded by, as The Bahamas has breeding populations of five of the world’s 7 sea turtle species – Green Turtle, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Kemp’s Ridley Turtles. Green turtles and Hawksbill are often said to be the ones roaming in the waters around GTC. They both look similar but Green turtles have a tear-dropped shaped shell and their shells are not green; they’re in fact olive brown or darker. This important detail made it easier for me to detect which kind of turtles we were surrounded by.
According to Jesse, we were to hold the squid under water until the turtles approached us, then drop it quickly enough to avoid our fingers being bitten in the process of them snatching the squid. One of the most daring kids went first, plunging his hand underwater to attract the turtles. In what felt like ages, I finally saw a small head making its way towards the group. Within two seconds, his mouth expanded, and he had devoured the piece of squid.
I reached out shyly to touch its shell as it’s the only sea animal other than fish that I am not afraid of interacting with, but the turtle whizzed away from me and disappeared in the blue sea. After watching the same interaction continuously, I finally built up the courage to get up close and personal with a sea turtle. I reached out for a piece of squid, took a deep breath and decided that instead of dangling my hand underwater, I would suspend the piece of squid above water, with just enough of the squid in the water to get the turtles’ attention. I wasn’t sure if my plan would work but in two seconds, a heart-shaped head poked out of the water snapping at the squid. The first time he snapped, I moved my hand too quickly, afraid of getting bitten, but by the second time, I had quietly built up the courage to let go, and I did, losing the chance to touch the turtle as he had scurried away.
It's hard to believe; I had finally conquered a marine adventure in The Bahamas. All month, I had built myself up just for this moment and it happened. If you’re an avid follower of these blogs you’d know I prefer life on the slower side of things. For example, I prefer exploring on land to swimming with sharks; I prefer catching a tan on the boat to snorkelling with marine life – you get the picture. But I had turtles as pets and although they never did anything exciting, I enjoyed their company. All of this prepared me for this exact moment and I nailed it at the perfect location.
Sea turtles are synonymous with the Abacos especially Green Turtle Cay which is named for the many sea turtles which once inhabited the island’s water. The first inhabitants of GTC were the Lucayan Indians who were eventually forced out by the Spaniards who took them to Hispaniola (Dominican Republic/Haiti). After the Lucayan’s were forced out, pirates invaded the harbours and then referred to the turtles as belly timber because there were so many of it and it was what kept them well fed on long expeditions.
Sea turtles in The Bahamas are considered endangered and the Bahamian government made it illegal to catch them or remove their turtle eggs from the country’s waters as of September 1, 2009. But, like anything else – it still happens. Our actions as humans are the number one threat to the survival of turtles such as; harvesting sea turtle eggs for consumption, buying and selling turtle shell jewellery and souvenirs, pollution, commercial fishing, ingesting debris and plastics.
After we were done swimming with the turtles, we were very cautious that we left their home as we had met it. We removed any items that they could have ingested and cleaned up the surrounding area and headed to our boat. Standing on the boat surveying the bay, it was easy to understand the charm of Coco Bay, it wasn’t a beach, but the water was warm and the sand under our feet was silky smooth yet difficult to stand on without struggling to find your groundings; it pulled you in with its charm. Yet, standing out surveying the bay, none of that mattered. Coco Bay didn’t have the delicacies of a normal Bahamian beach, it looked unfrequented yet maintained obviously by the GTC residents. It was like we had found our piece of paradise and the emptiness allowed us to enjoy it, for what it was.
For more information on how you can get in on the turtle action, visit our Activity Finder section, filter by the Abacos and select "Adventure" followed by "Boating". There you'll find a list of approved vendors. Hope to see you soon in the Abacos!