The single best thing about staying on Mataking Island during our honeymoon was the presence of turtles. Turtles, turtles everywhere! Previously, if I ever saw one turtle on a dive, I would be ecstatic. Two would just about put me over the moon. So seeing as many as 20 during one 45-minute submersion was just more excitement than this girl could handle.
I’d literally be floating around underwater trying to spot macro life beneath the rocks when BAM! I’d glance a foot below my body to see a leatherback dozing beneath a rock. Or three. Or more.
It wasn’t just leatherbacks either. The area is also home to hawksbills and green turtles (though I find it incredibly challenging to tell the difference between the three kinds, if we’re being honest).
They blend in quite well to the marine landscape, so there’s no telling how many of them we didn’t spot.
They’re such funny creatures, too. Nothing really seems to bother them. You can swim up within a foot, and they’ll just blink at you stupidly then go back to pretending you don’t exist. And while it may be tempting to grab a fin and go along for a ride—I know I always want to give their shells a good stroke—this is a no-no in the underwater world, as it can actually kill them when they can’t surface quickly enough to breathe.
On our first night on the island, SVV and I joined in on a night hike. While the island is tiny, the staff like you to stick to organized treks at night, as there are things like armor-clad centipedes and giant coconut crabs lurking below the palm trees. We were actually out to hunt down the latter but kept coming across turtle tracks instead. Then, we got incredibly lucky. Instead of mere tracks, we found a mama leatherback in the middle of laying eggs! We stood there for a good 15 minutes as she finished what she started, and I’ll be honest: I felt like it was an extreme invasion of her privacy!
Then, we helped to collect the eggs, which also seemed wrong; after all, she spent so much time digging a hole and burying them.
But due to the presence of lizards, massive iguanas and other things that go bump in the night, it’s best to replant the eggs at the resort’s turtle hatchery so the babies have a better chance at survival. So unbury, collect, replant we did.
We were on Mataking for five days, which turned out to work in our favor. This is the one trip where good luck followed me, as one of the final afternoons we were there, a batch of babies in the hatchery came out of their shells to say “hello!”
I think in a future life, I’d like to come back as a marine biologist. I can’t think of a topic that fascinates me more.
All those who happened to be there to witness this were invited to help release them into the ocean.
SVV and I had been fortunate enough to have a similar occurrence in Guatemala two years ago but were still ridiculously elated nonetheless. Because really there’s hardly anything cuter than a freshly-hatched turtle, wouldn’t you agree?
We continued to sit there and watch for close to half an hour as the bobbing heads eventually faded over the horizon. Only a few out of every “litter” of turtles makes it beyond their first few days thanks to pesky seagulls and other avian creatures, but I’d like to think all of our guys survived.
At least we hope and pray our own adopted baby, Chuck (SVV does not have great panache for naming creatures, apparently…his 12-year-old feline, for example, still goes simply by The Cat), made it through alive.