December 19, 2013
Sea turtles are one of earth’s most ancient creatures, and they’re powerful swimmers, covering enormous distances in relatively short periods of time. Turtles found feeding on the west coast of Barbados while immature (30-70 cm shell length) are often later tagged 2,500 km away in the seagrass meadows of the Miskito Cays on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua – a staggering journey requiring considerable stamina and might. Despite their size, these animals are extremely graceful, and under the guidance of speciality marine wildlife experts, swimming with sea turtles is an incredible opportunity to get close to this magnificent species, the Caribbean’s laidback giants of the deep. Few travel ventures can compare with taking a dip eyeball-to-eyeball with a 90-year-old, 100lb hawksbill turtle with a smile on his face.
Visitors keen to enjoy their very own ‘Finding Nemo’ encounter should choose a fully-accredited tour operator with a strong eco-tourism ethos. Barbados conservation efforts have helped protect the island’s sea turtle population since 1987. Today, Barbados is home to the second-largest number of nesting hawksbills in the wider Caribbean, with up to 500 females nesting per year on its beaches from May to October. Green turtles are foragers in Barbados and can be found around the island on reefs, sandy areas and near shipwrecks. These beautiful friendly creatures are the ones most tour operators choose to swim with on the west coast due to their inquisitive good nature.
Visitors swimming with sea turtles are guided by strict codes of conduct before they reach the water with a full brief on acceptable behaviour. Then they are fitted with life jackets (both for personal safety and to restrict the temptation to dive down and grab hold of turtles) and instructed NOT to touch the turtles. Boat numbers are limited and the speed of watercraft restricted in the vicinity of feeding areas. A small group is best as it allows a more intimate experience and provides a good crew-to-passenger ratio. Drinks, masks and snorkels are provided.
One of the best turtle swim operators is Barbados Blue, as it is ethically run by two marine biologists who combine trips with the evaluation, monitoring, protection and education of tropical reef and coastal ecosystems. Both have earned reputations as dedicated scientists and are experts in marine habitats – so are great for facts and extra insight. Traditionally, the turtle is a symbol of peace, and Barbados Blue is keen to nurture a peaceful relationship with its local environment.
Barbados Blue runs daily tours out to Carlisle Bay to swim with green and hawksbill sea turtles, suitable for all ages (priced at $US40 per person).
Header photo: Barbados is home to the second-largest hawksbill sea turtle population in the Caribbean © Abir Anwar
Have you gone swimming with the sea turtles? Let us know in the comments below.