Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
They’re small, but they’re frisky: Since 1981, approximately 31,000 hatchlings have been released from Grand Cayman’s turtle farm. They grow up, but they don’t go far. Last year at Omega Reef, Michael Maes, island resident and underwater videographer, had an encounter that might make an onlooker wonder what he rubbed on his lens. A hawksbill beelined for him and proceeded to keep his beak pressed to the glass for what must have been nearly 20 minutes. It stroked its way to the surface, then returned right to Maes. Maybe it’s the farm’s annual turtle release — or lack of predators — that explains the boldness of these young turtles. Or maybe it’s just something in the water.
Bequia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines
The first two years in a turtle’s life are its most vulnerable — hunted on shore and sea. On Bequia, Orton “Brother” King learned of sea turtles’ mortality rate, and the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary was born, creating a safe haven for juvenile hawksbills. It has become one more reason the Grenadines maintains a healthy turtle population. For divers and snorkelers, one of the best areas to target for encounters is the Tobago Cays Marine Park east of the island of Mayreau. This protected zone includes the reefs around five uninhabited cays, which also serve as turtle nesting grounds.
Makaha Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
In Hawaii, it’s a challenge to walk the beaches without stepping on throngs of basking green sea turtles — which, by the way, would be illegal because these animals are heavily protected in the Aloha State. Underwater, dive guides can take you to sites such as Makaha Beach off Oahu for known cleaning stations. And it’s full of entertainment. The turtles are about as active as they are on the beach, so although you might not get nose to nose literally, you’ll gain abundant face time — a coup for those who didn’t get enough Instagram fodder from simply walking the beach.
Punta Vicente Roca, Galapagos, Ecuador
Snorkel the shallow, rocky waters off Punta Vicente Roca on the northwest coast of Isabela, one of the Galapagos Islands, and you’ll swear you’re in a Sea World tank. Galapagos green turtles — a species that evolved separately from the Pacific pack — return to this spot each nesting season December through February. Once they arrive, they stay in close proximity, taking advantage of algae patches and cleaning stations. Jump in and you’re elbow to elbow with dozens. Pick up a camera, and you’ll easily fit at least seven in one shot. One reason they pack in is the sheer number born here: Every year, 3,000 green sea turtles migrate to these six islands to nest.
Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands
Green sea turtles travel to South Pacific lagoons for the same reasons we do: The water inside the atoll is like a swimming pool — protected, and much warmer than the ocean beyond. Like all reptiles, they’re looking to heat their blood (so what’s our excuse?). In Aitutaki Lagoon, part of the Cook Islands, turtle watching — as well as diving and snorkeling — is especially good November through February when the lagoon becomes a mating ground. Of course, it’s silly to anthropomorphize, but it is fun to imagine that a part of them appreciates the romance of the South Pacific just as we do.
[Via Sport Diver]