I’ve been a surfer and an ocean swimmer and sailor for over 15 years, so sea turtles have a special place in my heart and in my life. These giant, beautiful, graceful reptiles that dive into the deepest parts of the ocean are some of the most well traveled, farthest-swimming creatures in the ocean. The distances that sea turtles travel with regularity is truly amazing and they can teach us humans a thing or two about long distance endurance swim travel!
When I was a teenager surfing in the Hawaiian Islands, the Philippine Islands and Mauritius, I often swam and surfed with huge sea turtles. It can be frightening at first to see this large, fast sea creature come up to you so quickly from out of the depths, but their peaceful and gentle demeanor soon puts you at ease.
I’ve accidentally swum far out to sea curiously following a sea turtle as if it were a pied piper leading me into the reef depths. Sea turtles are incredibly graceful in the waves and they put us surfers to shame with the ease and speed at which they so nonchalantly ride the most challenging waves that the ocean throws at us to surf. I’ve wiped out on big waves in Hawaii and have seen many surfers injure themselves on the shallow reef, but the wise sea turtle, never! It’s always in the right spot in an angry sea.
Except now: sea turtles are gravely at risk from human activities such as fisheries bycatch, ocean pollution, and other human-created problems. As a surfer this breaks my heart to see my longtime ocean friends hurting so much at our hands.
Being a surfer and a lover of the ocean, the protection of sea turtles goes hand in hand with my ocean conservation work at Save The Waves Coalition, where we work to protect surf spots and their surrounding coastal environments from pollution and development.
Watching a sea turtle race through its incredibly difficult seasonal migrations, crossing oceans and encountering so much adversity along the way, is pure inspiration for me to keep working to protect our oceans and the amazing diversity of life that is in our oceans. When I’m tired and run down from too much work or beat down from traffic and city life, I remember the endurance of the sea turtle swimming thousands of miles and dodging innumerable threats to lay its eggs on a remote tropical beach, and I am completely rejuvenated and inspired.
Who knows when the next time is that I’m surfing at the beach and will be startled and pleasantly surprised when a sea turtle quietly rises up from the depths to greet me and share some waves. Thanks, sea turtles, you are the ultimate in freedom and enduring wildness!
Josh Berry is a lifetime surfer and ocean-lover and is the environmental director for the Save The Waves Coalition. Photo (above) by William Henry.
** Check back next Tuesday, April 28th, for professional surfer Hans Hagen’s blog post about how surfers and marine conservation go hand-in-hand. **