Hawksbill sea turtles are normally shy and reclusive. They are critically endangered and a rare sight for scuba divers to see on the reef. An important species, they are also the most beautiful of all the sea turtles. Their ornate shells have been sought for decades to make hair brushes, jewelry boxes and other souvenirs. Even their shells were used for decorations and the hunting of the turtles for commercial use pushed them to the brink of extinction.
This turtle lives on an isolated reef in Papua New Guinea. He and another turtle here frequent this spot and feed on the yellow sponges that grow here. But, these turtles were injured or sick when they were very young and they were rescued by this scuba diver as part of a rehabilitation and conservation effort aimed at helping the hawksbill populations. Nursed back to health and provided food and a safe place to grow bigger, the two turtles thrived. They were eventually released back to the area where they were found.
These hawksbills will not see humans often. But the divemaster who rescued them comes here, partly to check on the turtles and to see that they are doing well. They recognize him and they understand that he will not harm them. They also realize that he will feed them and help them get at the sponges that grow between the rocks and chunks of coral.
Hawksbills feed on sea sponges for their nutritional value, but also for the algae that grows on them. The sponges and the algae would devastate the reef if it was left to grow unhindered. The hawksbill plays a vital role in the ecology of the reef in many oceans. But sea sponges grow in awkward places and some are hard to get. Ronnie, the scuba diver digs at the sponges carefully and breaks a few chunks off here and there to give the turtles a little help. As demanding as a hungry dog, the sea turtle wants the food immediately and she tries to stick her nose right in as he works. The little hawksbill swims around the divers constantly, as nosy as can be, barely giving them room to work.
Having such an interaction with a critically endangered animal is a wonderful experience. Their trust is touching and a dive like this will never be forgotten by Ronnie's guests on this beautiful reef.