CI Photojournal: The Turtle Islands (Part 1 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 favorite photos from the Philippines’ Turtle Islands.

A silhouette of mating green sea turtles within the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

The Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIPA) consists of a group of nine islands: three in Malaysia and six in the Philippines. They are appropriately called the Turtle Islands and represent a transboundary conservation agreement focused on protecting the endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). These nine islands are some of the most important nesting beaches in Southeast Asia.

Nesting endangered green sea turtle digs a hole to cover her eggs. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

The story of the sea turtle and its life cycle is an inspiration to me — a motivational message about overcoming the odds. Each day and night I walked along the beach in search of nesting sea turtles. Most often in the early morning light, I would see the tracks, but occasionally I would encounter a nesting turtle that pushed its massive body across the beach from the sea to lay its eggs on land, starting a new generation. I can only imagine the transition from mobility to immobility, from agile swimmer to awkward walker, from weightlessness to the immense weight of gravity outside the suspension of water. A testament to perseverance. While graceful at sea, like a quirky cross between a “Star Wars” spaceship and ballerina, on land the adult turtles make slow, laborious, deliberate movements. The entire nesting process looks like a struggle.

Nesting green sea turtles return to sea after laying eggs throughout the evening. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

What is difficult to communicate is the length of time that this process takes. Photographs and video give the illusion of compressed time, but the real-time process to crawl up a beach, dig a hole (typically multiple holes before settling on a location), lay eggs, cover the nest and return to sea takes a whopping four to six hours and appears to be a struggle for every bit of it, until they return to the familiar comforts of the sea.

These tracks tell the story of a nesting green sea turtle that laid eggs and returned to sea. (© Keith Ellenbogen)

Keith Ellenbogen is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Check out Part 2 of our blog series, and see more of Keith’s sea turtle photos and videos on the New England Aquarium Explorers Blog.


  1. Pingback: CI PHOTOJOURNAL: THE TURTLE ISLANDS (2 OF 3) | about70percent

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *