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Don't touch the turtles!

Discussion in 'Marine Science and Physiology' started by nigeltlee, Dec 12, 2008.

  1. nigeltlee

    nigeltlee Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Hong Kong
    Hi Everyone!

    Every time I dive in a new location the dive group gets a very stern warning about not touching the turtles. Apart from the obvious (we shouldn't touch anything), I was wondering if there was other reasons, like they could catch a disease from humans or vice versa.

    I'm happy to report that I dive in South East Asia and all of the dive operations enforce this rule rigorously. I've seen a DM cancel the days dives when he saw someone in his group try to ride one.... :shakehead:
  2. Walter

    Walter Instructor, Scuba

    I disagree with your assumption about not touching anything. Look at the most recent Nogi awards. As for your question, about other reasons...a touch spreads no disease in either direction. A simple touch harms neither the turtle nor the diver. Riding a turtle is far different from touching one. Touching is prohibited because people don't know how to touch. Harassing turtles is illegal in many areas. There's nothing wrong (assuming local laws allow it) with touching a turtle if you do it in the correct manner. Swim along side a turtle. If it turns away, let it go. If it continues to swim along side, gradually get closer. When you are close enough, slowly reach out with one hand and gently stroke the shell with your finger tips only. You should always let the turtle approach you. Always let the turtle turn away without following. Never grab or try to ride a turtle.
  3. bleeb

    bleeb Photographer

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Ottawa, Canada
    I don't know about turtles specifically, but most (AFAIK) marine creatures rely on slime or biofilms to help keep infection out. Unlike above-water creatures, they're much more exposed as a result of constantly swimming in a soup of the stuff. Touching can disturb their native protection, putting them at increased risk.

    That being said, I suspect touching a hard watertight surface like a turtle shell is relatively less risky to the turtle than touching soft surfaces like head, flippers, or other skin-covered areas. But possibly not completely zero risk for the turtle, since I vaguely remember articles about rescued turtles where chunks of their shell had become infected and were rotting away.
  4. DMJulie

    DMJulie Divemaster

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: California but wish I was back in Kauai
    In Hawaii we have the Green Sea turtle. If you get caught touching one of these guys, it's going to cost you some bucks. It's a $10k fine.

    However the turtle can touch you.
  5. Scared Silly

    Scared Silly Regular of the Pub

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: on the path to perdition
    In a few places the local residents get a bit annoyed if you do pay them some attention with a scratch or two. This is the exception rather than the rule. My guess is like what Walter said

    Touching is prohibited because people don't know how to touch and at that point the touching is harassment.
  6. wreckchick

    wreckchick Scubavangelist

    This is what I tell everyone about touching turtles:

    I like turtles, I like seeing turtles, I want to show turtles to other people therefore I don't allow any diver to do anything to any turtle that might make said turtle want to avoid being seen by divers.

    The example I give is that if you decide to dive down to the bottom of the pool and you have plenty of time there but someone, however briefly, puts a hand on your head, it's probably going to annoy you since you know you have to go up eventually and for a second you weren't sure if someone else was going to let you or not. That would piss me off and I'd try and avoid letting things with hands that can do that get near me the next time I want to hang out in the bottom of the pool.

    Turtles are really fast underwater and can easily scoot away when they hear a group of divers coming because they've had unpleasant encounters in the past.

    That's my speech and my philosophy on turtle contact.

  7. novicediver

    novicediver Solo Diver

    I just assume leave the marine life alone. I am sure one touch is not going to hurt the turtle, but one touch leads to grabbing which leads to picking up, etc. Why are we even having this discussion? Isn't it enough to watch and enjoy the sea life? Do you go into the woods to pet the squirrels or deer?
  8. LeadTurn_SD

    LeadTurn_SD Solo Diver

    I'm not a marine biologist. But I am a turtle lover :D

    I dive at a location near my home in Hilo known for numerous turtle "cleaning stations" at a depth of 40-50 feet; it is not uncommon to see a dozen or more motionless turtles being "cleaned" at the same time in an area that is maybe 50' x 50'. These turtles are incredibly tame and will happily tolerate scuba divers (within reason) because of the no-harrassment, no-touch rules that have been observed here for many years. Looking is fine, if they swim up to you fine, but no touching, no chasing, etc.

    What Walter describes is surely also just fine (because he knows how to touch without terrorizing the turtle), but I really prefer the absolute no-touch rule because of the potential for harm to the animal.... touching does not benefit the animal, and is only done to please ourselves.... so unless the turtle or other sea creature comes up and nuzzles up to you like a pet dog, no touching please, because we want the turtles there the next time we dive :D

    Happy Diving!
  9. novicediver

    novicediver Solo Diver

    Yeah, what he said! If people would stick to the take only pictures and leave only bubbles rule when it comes to all marine life and avoid any kind of touching instead of trying to justify in their own little brains why they think it is ok, then perhaps my daughter may actually get to enjoy the underwater world as well.
  10. MauiScubaSteve

    MauiScubaSteve Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Olowalu, Maui
    The majority of sea turtles in Hawaii are green sea turtles. We also have a few hawksbill turtles. Green sea turtles are considered endangered. Hawksbill's are critically endangered.

    If you are convicted of harassment you could be fined up to $10 or $20 thousand dollars; I can't find a definite answer on the web. Harassment accusations are in the eye of the person turning you in. U-tube video of a diver riding a green sea turtle might be sufficient evidence to result in a conviction.

    Touching a green sea turtle is not by definition harassment. U-tube video of a diver touching a green sea turtle would probably not be sufficient evidence to result in conviction, and even if convicted first offense fines would likely be less than the max, just like other fine systems.

    There are turtle cleaning stations at many popular dive sites where nearly 100 year old turtles have been watched/admired/photographed/bumped into by divers daily for decades. I have had the distinct feeling from turtles I took pictures of daily for years that me helping the algae eating fish clean the shell would be less harassing than repeated strobe flashes in the face.

    those are fish lip prints, not fingerprints​

    Cleaning stations are not just for turtles, or even marine animals. Many of our scarlet cleaner shrimp seem to be surviving this wild animal feeding harassment.


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