Friday, September 18, 2009

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

There are few, if any, spots along the Kona coastline where  green sea turtles cannot be found. Although considered an endangered species, their numbers have recovered dramatically in Hawaii. Despite their heavy armor, they swim gracefully and, at times, surprisingly fast. The Hawaiian term for this creature is honu and it figures quite prominently in local folklore and tradition. 

SCUBA divers encounter honu frequently and the large reptiles tolerate human presence well as long as divers swim gently and don't crowd them. In the early morning, turtles can be found sleeping under coral ledges or in depressions in the reef. Often they can be seen at cleaning stations where tangs and surgeonfish clean the shells and skin of algae. Like all reptiles, they breathe air and a person watching the waves roll to shore will often see a turtle head rising from the surf for a quick gulp of air.

The combination of large size and usually languid pace make honus wonderful subjects for underwater photography. Even after ten years and hundreds of encounters, I still can't help but take at least a couple of shots when a turtle comes in range, The photo above is my all time favorite. The lighting worked out unusually well with the ambient light above balancing the external flash from the side. the subject is a relatively young individual with almost pure white skin between the plates on her neck and flippers (mature turtles have yellowish-brown skin). She afforded me plenty of photo ops as she glided overhead and seemed to play in Betty's bubbles. It was one of those magical moments underwater when you feel more connected than usual to the world around you. 

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