I’ve seen tons of sea turtles. OK, mostly in documentaries or photos or in aquariums. But on a trip to St. Thomas, I took the “Swim with the Sea Turtles Half-Day Trip to Turtle Cove,” and saw a bunch of these most graceful, noble creatures, as up close and personal as they allow, in their native aquatic habitat.
The trips are run out of the all-inclusive Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, aboard its roomy and comfy 53-foot catamaran, Heavenly Days, a quick, breezy jaunt across open water. Daniel Basic was our captain, and as we puttered over to Buck Island’s Turtle Cove on a gloriously hot, sunny day, he gave the about 30 of us aboard the spiel about the turtle, its habitat and how above all, we’d be in their world, guests in their home, and to act accordingly. Don’t get too close, he said, not that it matters. They’ll get away from you way quicker than you can ever think about getting close to them. When seeing one, he advised us to do the “dead man’s float,” just bob on your belly and wait. If they’re curious enough, they’ll check you out.
These marvelous beasts were in abundance this day (that’s not always the case), green sea turtles which eat sea grass on the bottom, holding their breath for amazing amounts of time, then drifting lazy to the surface, slowly pumping thick fins, to stick their snouts above water and get the next breath of air. You occasionally see these marvelous heads poking up, and that in itself is a neat sight to behold.
You’re outfitted with snorkels and fins, and can lazily drift in the water, looking down at all manner of aquatic life, which include the turtles but in more evidence things like bar jacks, cow fish, yellow tail snapper and ballyhoo, and the occasional hawksbill, all magically colorful creatures doing what they do -– swim and feed -– as voyeur snorkelers watch from above.
This day, there were turtles aplenty, with all of our party seeing at least one. You just have to relax, watch and wait. I no sooner got into the water than I spotted a turtle lolling on the bottom, head moving right and left, munching away. After five minutes or so he slowly ambled up right by a swimmer, easing to his right to avoid him, and bobbed his fat head into the air, snatching a breath, then more, and then slowly sunk to the bottom, completing his life’s routine: swim, eat, breathe.
Basic was an amiable, informative young man, and talked animatedly about sea life, including eagle rays, telling a riddle that asks “What lives life in the water but gives birth in the air?” That would be the eagle ray. Sometimes when females give birth, Basic said, they jet themselves out of the water, spurt their young and fall back in, the youngsters all rolled up and then unfolding like a parachute.
“It’s amazing, and no one believes me when I tell them that,” Basic laughed, adding that he’s seen four such live births in his young career.
He told the story about a party of six he took out, telling a woman about the eagle ray, her disbelieving him, and how not four minutes later, one sprang into the air right next to the boat, popped her young and splashed back into the water.
“Her jaw dropped,” Basic said. “She asked me ‘Did you plan that?’”
Sea Turtle Cruise
Bolongo Bay Beach Resort
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, 00802
Rates: $65 adults, $45 children (12 and younger), includes snorkel gear, light snacks, soft drinks, and beer and rum punch –- after the swimming and snorkeling