On the hunt for turtles

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Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Sea turtle conservation

For four days the sea turtles had been evading us and this was our last chance. We feared if we didn’t catch one today then we would leave this little stretch of the Uruguayan coast with a sense of disappointment… perhaps even failure. It was time to battle the waves for one final time.

We squeezed into our wetsuits and unrolled our net with a determination not to let the ocean defeat us again.

I had come to the small beach village of La Coronilla to help a sea turtle conservation group called Karumbe.

During the turtle season of the warmer months it works to protect the animals from threats within the ocean and from humans. Our task this week was to capture turtles in the ocean that would be tagged and documented.

Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay

Each morning we set out from our base on the beach and walked the thirty minutes to a rocky outcrop that was supposedly a popular feeding area for the turtle. These mornings were always filled with hope and, with the bags of gear on our back and sand between our toes, we talked about the success we were sure was waiting for us.

For the past four days, that success had been elusive and the walks back had been a bit quieter and the bags a bit heavier.

Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay
Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay

Marine turtles

On this fifth and final day, we unfurled the net on the beach as usual. It was about 30 metres long and, as with each previous attempt, the real struggle of the day was swimming through the waves, fighting the currents, and trying to anchor one end of the net on the rocks and the other on the beach.

The work was difficult and at times the strain was almost painful. We pulled the ropes at each end of the net as the waves crashed over it and tried to wrench it from our grasp.

Eventually, though, we got it into place and ready for the marine turtles to swim in and get tangled.

Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay
Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay

We made a section of the rocky outcrop our base for the day and set up to wait.

There were seven of us – the same team we’d had all week. Four Argentines, a Pole, an Australian (me) and our Brazilian coordinator.

We stayed in our wetsuits, ready to pounce at short notice, as we chatted in a mixture of languages, played games and ate the pasta we’d prepared earlier that morning.

Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay

As we sat there, we saw a marine turtle on the water, swimming in the area we had surrounded with our net. Every few minutes it would raise its head from the water to take a breath and we saw that it was getting closer to our trap.

Our hearts would rise.

Then, as it continued to surface for breaths, we saw it was getting further away again. Our hopes fell a little… but we stayed alert, watching and waiting.

Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay

After a few hours we decided to take matters into our own hands and pull the net into the beach, trying to catch the turtle on the way in.

Again, we struggled with the waves as we unfastened the ropes on both ends. Then, slowly, we trawled through the water and towards the beach. As we got closer to the sand we were sure luck was going to be on our side.

How could this plan fail?

We got closer, water up to our waist, then our knees, then we emerged from the ocean and pulled the rest of the net onto the land.

Nothing. The net was empty. The only things entangled were a few strands of seaweed mocking us.

Somehow the turtle had escaped and, on our final attempt, the sea had again got the better of us. None of us spoke for a while.

Then we spontaneously broke out into applause, high-fived, and slapped each other on the back. We had done our best, it just wasn’t meant to be. You can’t argue with the will of nature.

Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay
Karumbe turtle conservation in Uruguay, Volunteering in Uruguay

As the week came to a close, it was strange because we weren’t disappointed. We had all volunteered our time to help Karumbe and its conservation effort. The aim was not to catch sea turtles for our own amusement but to pitch in with their work and that’s exactly what we’d done.

It was early in the season and there weren’t many turtles in the waters close to shore. The seas had been rough and that had made things more difficult. We had helped where help was needed and there was a satisfaction in being a part of that.

15 thoughts on “On the hunt for turtles”

  1. We live right by a turtle nesting area. A lot get injured by fishing hooks, carrier bags and boat propellers and now there’s a research and rescue centre about 30 minutes drive along the coast from here. Their work is so important and they’re a really dedicated bunch. We try to visit there once a year to see their work – and to write about it and promote it on the blog. 🙂

  2. Well even if everything did not turn out just as expected, in the end it was still a rewarding experience. I’m sure you still gained something good out from all what have happened.

  3. You have such a positive attitude for helping out, and not letting any disappointment get you down. Like you said, you can’t argue with nature’s will. I love turtles myself, and hope you find more of your little mascots on your travels 🙂

    • Yeah, it wasn’t really too disappointing because everyone had such a great attitude. I’m sure I’ll come across some more turtles soon… I do kind of look out for those opportunities 🙂

  4. Cool story, Michael, and good on you for volunteering! We’re big supporters of sea turtle conservation, and actually did a very cool video back in January about the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. If you haven’t already, you should join our TRAVEL BLOGGERS GIVE BACK page on Facebook and share stories about some of your favorite charity organizations you work with.

  5. Near Marmaris , a place called dalyan is well known place for the sea turtels but like every where is the world the biggest problem are the humans and their waste. Many of these beautiful sea turtles are killed by fishing hooks, carrier bags and boat propellers.


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