Location: Port Elizabeth, Bequia

This morning Argo and her crew woke up to the lovely cinnamony smell of Challa French Toast for breakfast. Many of us discovered as we woke up that our water was off! It turned out that our watermaker is not working, so we have to be super conservative with our water usage until we can get it fixed. After that bit of bad news, we enjoyed our delicious, labor-intensive, breakfast, and then prepared to visit the OldHegg Turtle Sanctuary. At the sanctuary, we had the opportunity to see young Hawksbill turtles varying in sizes from the size of tangerine to the size of a golden retriever. The OldHegg sanctuary, run by a retired fisherman, operates by takes turtle hatchlings as they emerge from their sand-covered nests and bringing them back to the sanctuary to be raised. The young turtles are reared to the age of 5 at the sanctuary – a small building with enough room for several small pools for differently aged turtles – after which they are released all around the Caribbean.

The turtle sanctuary was a difficult thing for a lot of the crew to see. It was definitely very cool to see so many turtle so close and in one place, but after studying marine life all semester, and many of us having seen Hawksbill turtles in the wild, seeing the turtles in such a confined space felt slightly cruel. The biggest question we had was, “Does this help the turtles?” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a satisfactory answer to that question. Many of us left feeling uneasy. Logically, it makes sense that raising the turtles in a protected setting during their most vulnerable period would significantly increase their ability to survive to reproduce. However, we wonder whether or not raising them in such a domesticated setting on a diet that is not their natural diet of jellyfish and sponges might weaken their ability to survive after reintroduction to the wild. And if it does lower the survival rate, is it significant enough to make the whole program effectively a moot point? The program made many of us uneasy because there was no scientifically collected evidence that the turtles that had been released over the past 20+ years were surviving.

After we all got that perspective-shifting first-person experience with conservation efforts that we’ve been talking about all semester in Marine Biology and Oceanography, it was time for the already certified divers to get some more first-hand experience with a wreck dive! While the advanced open water divers came back to Argo to have lunch and prepare for their dive, the open water dive students got an afternoon of free time onshore.

After an afternoon of exploring Bequia, diving, and generally relaxing on board and getting some homework done, we had a tasty dinner of Matza Ball Soup and Kuguel. Dinner was followed by Marine Biology, where we discussed our turtle sanctuary experience – including what we all thought about the pros and cons of the program, and how it should be changed. At the end of another day full of adventures, we go to bed, hoping that we’ll soon have a working watermaker again.