CI Photojournal: The Turtle Islands (Part 2 of 3)

Later this year the Ocean Health Index, a new tool to measure all dimensions of ocean health, will officially launch. In preparation for its launch, photographer and videographer Keith Ellenbogen went out on the water to document the state of some of the world’s most important and vulnerable marine ecosystems — and the people who depend on them. This week, we’re bringing you some of his beautiful photos and personal stories from the Philippines’ Turtle Islands. Check out other posts in this series.

After hatching on the beach, baby green sea turtles immediately take to the sea. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

One of my most awe-inspiring moments on the Turtle Islands was when I observed and photographed baby sea turtles breaking through the sand and racing to the water’s edge. At that moment before being swept up by the sea they appeared to pause and watch the wave breaking — like a surfer running with a board into the sea.

A baby green sea turtle entering the ocean for the first time. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

For the hatchlings, this is truly a life-or-death drama. Most don’t make it past the hungry gauntlet of the seabirds and fish within the coral reef; it’s estimated that less than 1 percent survive. There is still much we don’t know about the ocean and the animals living in it, but it’s clear that those that survive to adulthood are the lucky ones.

A simulation of how enforcement agents and park rangers apprehend sea turtle egg poachers. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

One evening on the sandy beach I asked Romeo Trono, the executive country director of Conservation International Philippines, to describe what it was like before he and others established this conservation area. He humbly told me that it never dawned on him that he would see the hatchlings they released in the eighties return to the same beaches 20-30 years later. In 2011, both the Malaysian and Philippine park rangers reported a record number of nesting sea turtles on their beaches — most likely a direct result of the conservation work over the past two to three decades.

A baby green sea turtle at night swimming over the coral reef. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

The Turtle Islands are a success story and a testament to the long-term triumphs of conservation efforts. They remind us that, like the sea turtle hatchling racing for the water, we too can beat the odds.

Keith Ellenbogen is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). See more of Keith’s sea turtle photos and videos on the New England Aquarium Explorers Blog.

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