(Editor’s note: Sanjayan, The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist, is traveling in the Solomon Islands to explore the amazing diversity of life and the fast vanishing marine and terrestrial habitats on these islands. As part of this expedition, Sanjayan’s experiences will be made available to students across the United States by the interactive curricula company Promethean Planet. Sanjayan’s stories from the field, photography, video and more will be developed into innovative lesson ideas to be used in classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards. To learn more, visit Promethean Planet.)
On the way to Tetapare we see spinner dolphins — lots of them. Near the end of the video above, you can see a dolphin mom and her little baby sticking close and then they both leap out of the water. Note how the baby rides the mother’s bow wave — almost drafting off the mother like a cyclist would. The dolphins were great and spent about 20 minutes with us, riding the waves in front of the boat — about 50 dolphins.
Tetepare is the largest uninhabited island in the tropical South Pacific. Big, raw and green — a thick carpet of jungle, impenetrable to us. The island is about 120 sq kilometers — and it’s completely uninhabited except for a very small research camp. It’s an amazing opportunity for conservation.
One of the things they do here is tag turtles — hawksbill, green and even leatherbacks. One leatherback turtle tagged here swam all the way out to California.
It’s incredible to see how they do it here. The guys stand on the bow of the boat going at speed in shallow coral waters — peering into the water until they see a shadow. I can barely see underwater, but they can spot the shadow of a turtle gliding in the deep. When they see it, they are like bloodhounds, tracking it back and forth across the reef, back and forth, the guy in the bow using hand signals to guide the guy piloting the boat. It’s an amazing ballet.
Then when the turtle is near the surface, the guy on the bow dives in (no fins, no mask) and grabs the turtle by the shell and swims it to the surface. Turtle Rodeo is what they call it, and that’s exactly what it is. The turtles can be over 100 pounds and are very very strong swimmers. I am pretty sure I could not do it.
Once on the boat, we take it to shore, tag it with two metal tags on each flipper — like earrings. Then they measure the turtle, mark any injuries etc., and it’s released. The whole operation takes just an hour per turtle, and the professionalism of the guys here is incredible.
(Videos shot by Sanjayan/TNC.)