Finding The Sea Turtles On Great Exuma Island

A Sunrise in Great Exuma

A pink glow blossomed on my white pillow as I fluttered my eyes open. It was just after six in the morning–my first sunrise in The Bahamas. Though I’d love to blame my early rising on jet lag, it was just after three in the morning back in Los Angeles. I had no excuse for capturing this morning glory.

Slipping on my flip flops, I opened the patio door and followed the boardwalk over the sand down to the shoreline. The water was darker than I’d seen from the plane, probably because the sun wasn’t glinting through it at full capacity yet.

Morning Along Great Exuma's Coastline
Morning Along Great Exuma’s Coastline

Now barefoot, I trudged through the white sand and back up through the cabanas next-door at Paradise Bay Resort. My host had told us that we had free use of their amenities (the fire pit, cabanas, pool and restaurant).

“Are you open for breakfast yet?” I asked the waitress who stood alone in the empty dining room.

“Yes, grab a seat wherever you’d like.”

I watched the sun rise higher and higher as the coffee in my mug grew lower and lower. After scrambled eggs, toast and bacon, I was more than ready to get the day started in this tropical oasis.

Finding Hoopers Bay

“So, he said to go past the blue house until we see a hidden diamond-shaped beach access sign and then park across from it,” I stated, remembering Norbert’s words.

Tiki bars on the beach flew by me on the left and a jungle of greens greeted me on my right. Crops grow very easily in The Bahamas due to the climate.

“There’s the blue house!”

We parked along the road on a small dirt patch and headed across the street, playing frogger, until we reached the diamond-shaped sign. The trail was small, looked like something a deer would use to run through the forest, except this one led to the beach. I ducked under an overbearing mother of a branch and jumped over a pile of rocks. With my hand on the side of the building next to me, I began inching my feet down the wooden board functioning as a ramp.

The Treacherous Ramp
The Treacherous Ramp

“ooH sh-” I said, catching my balance as my traction-less black flip-flops slid across the small grains of sand between the wood and the soles of my feet.

“UH-OH!” I heard from behind me, accompanied with the scratching of sandpaper.

Jumping to the left and into the bushes, I avoided a catastrophic entrance into Hoopers Bay. That’s the last time we use the so-called ramp instead of nature’s path. The beach here is famous in The Bahamas for its endless supply of sea turtles. Norbert said we may see five or six– nine on a really good day.

A Lurking Mystery

I looked at the map he drew up for us and the mysterious three columns in the top right corner. Scanning the shoreline, I noticed three private piers at the end. We’d learned that though you can own property–and even your own island– in The Bahamas, no matter what, the first few steps onto the shore are public property. As we walked toward the turtle hotspot by the piers, I scanned the water, looking for dark shapes that may point me toward a wandering aquatic soul.

Hoopers Bay
Hoopers Bay

“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a dark shape about half the size of my kitchen table, “Do you think it’s a turtle?”

I began wading out into the water, but within a few short strides, it was up to my chest. I hadn’t brought any snorkeling gear with me to see what was lurking beneath the surface. However, I did have my GoPro. The only problem was, getting close enough to identify whatever it was in the footage might be risky.

“What if it’s a stingray? Or a shark? It’s laying on the bottom, so I can’t see its shape well enough from above.”

We took turns with the GoPro, testing our luck until giving up on whatever the underwater blob was. Hopefully, we’d find an easier target further down the beach.

Finding The Sea Turtles

“I see one! Look!” I shouted excitedly, pointing at a small sea turtle riding the waves into shore.

My Favorite Turtle
My Favorite Turtle

This little guy was about an eighth of the size of the underwater blob we were pursing before, although I couldn’t decide if this made me anxious because we may have been walking beside a monster, or excited because we may have been walking beside the mother.

I placed my GoPro under the small waves and the sea turtle began to follow the lens, as if she was posing for the paparazzi. If I put the camera to my left, she would go to the left, and if I put my camera to the right, she would go to the right. We were dancing together in a billow of blues. I pulled the camera out of the water and she splashed above the wave, taking a big breath of fresh air. It was unbelievable how comfortable the sea turtle was beside me in The Caribbean.

Dancing With The Turtle
Dancing With The Turtle

The Sad Truth About Hoopers Bay

After a while, I figured I was ready to see if there were any bigger turtles swimming further down the shore. Strolling through the sand, I left footprints behind me that would soon be washed away with the roll of tide. As I approached the first dock, I came upon a sign.

DO NOT FEED OR TOUCH THE TURTLES,” the heading read in bold print.

Well that explains why my first model was following me: She thought I had food. The moment didn’t seem so magical anymore. It felt more like an open range zoo. Sure, the animals aren’t promised to be active and may not always come up to you, but they’re trained. They know that when a tourist muddles up the sand and sticks their grimy hands in the water, they can expect a bite to be handed to them instead of having to find their food in the wild. It’s disappointing, really, the idea that people want a moment on this planet to happen so bad for them that they ruin that same moment for the next globetrotter tip-toeing through the sand.

On To The Next Adventure

I couldn’t stop thinking about that sign as I walked all of the way to the end, where the third pier rested. I didn’t end up finding any turtles bigger than my first model. However, I was surprised to see not one, but four more smiling faces wildly cruising through the Caribbean all within the hour. This truly was the sea turtles’ hangout place; I just hoped it wasn’t a man-made decision. As the clouds began to close up above me, a few small drops squeezed themselves out, starting a light sprinkle that darkened the water.

It may have been rainy season, but it was also a Sunday during rainy season. Anyone who knows anything about Sundays in Great Exuma knows that these days are meant to be spent at Stocking Island for the Chat N’ Chill Pig Roast.

“Can you wait there just a minute,” a friendly man said, motioning behind him and making a face that’s normally accompanied by a yikes.

A bronzed woman with blonde wavy locks, maybe 40 years old or so, was lying at the bottom of the sandpaper ramp, as her husband rubbed her back. I guess the turtles weren’t the only ones battling the man-made catastrophes today.

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