A butterfly floats over a basking Green Turtle

It was as if I was walking on top of the night sky. Around me was blackness punctuated by millions of points of light, like stars in the night. In the midst of the black was a Green Turtle, almost like a living constellation. I laid down to make a photograph and when I got back up tiny grains of black clung to my arms and legs. It wasn't the middle of the night. The black was made from finely ground lava. The afternoon sun reflected off millions of surfaces in the beach,  making the stars in the night of the black sand. And the large turtle floated in a sleep so deep that someone next to me asked if he was alive.

A Green Turtle takes a quick breath before being covered by a wave.

Waves broke over the rocky outcropping just off shore. Through the moving water I could catch tantalizing glimpses of other Green Turtles. Every few moments they would poke their heads up for a quick breath of air, and then they would disappear as the next wave covered them. More often I would see the tops of their shells or a flipper sticking out of the water momentarily, as if the turtle was waving to me. At first I thought that they were being buffeted around by the surf as they tried to come into the beach for a rest. It was only later that I realized that they were placidly grazing on the algae growing on the rocks just under the surface of the water.

The underwater grace of Green Turtles.

Later in the week I was able to swim with a couple of other Green Turtles. In the water they appear much different than what I saw from land. Once they become wet many colors and patterns show up on their skin and shells that can't be seen when they are dry. I kept a respectful distance and spent some time watching them pause and graze and glide through the water. They have very large flippers and move through the water with a elegance and refinement that could not be guessed at by watching them from above the water. They have a deliberate gliding movement that is very graceful, almost as if they were flying through the water.

Going with the flow...

One of my lasting memories of Green Turtles on that trip was of the first one basking on the black sand beach. I think of myself as a reasonably patient person, patience is pretty much required in Nature photography. But that afternoon I saw a new level of patience. When the huge turtle decided that it was time to leave he slowly turned himself around and lined up with the force of the ocean. And he waited. A wave came that washed over his head, adding color and texture. And he waited. A while later a wave washed over his entire body. He lifted his head and held his flippers out and surfed towards the ocean. All of an inch or two closer to the ocean. And he waited some more. He was in no rush. He wasn't fighting what was going on, he was literally going with the flow.

Charles St. Charles III

[Note: Green Turtles are an endangered species. For more more information on Green Turtles you can visit Animal Planet at http://animal.discovery.com/fansites/jeffcorwin/carnival/frog/greenturtle.html The Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) has an interesting web site that maps global nesting sites of Green Turtles at http://www.cccturtle.org/green.htm If you look closely through the CCC web site you'll be able to find maps of turtles carrying transmitters that have locations of the turtles as recent as yesterday.]

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