Tag: sea turtles

Sea Turtle Magic

Sea Turtle Magic

The first dive was amazing. We were winding through the coral caves of Palencar Reef. Sponges and corals were pristine. The arches, alive with color, were surrounded by blue…ocean blue…the color that seems to run through my veins

As I was meandering through exquisite passageways I thought it was most likely the most beautiful dive I’ve ever done. Over 600 dives in magnificent caves of the Yucatan, reefs of the Caribbean, the Pacific kelp forests….none were as deeply beautiful as this colorful swim through winding tunnels of reef.

The surface interval was relaxed and fun and then the second dive….”Duck in a canyon to get out of the current,” he said. It was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with current that wasn’t bashful. But that’s not what I remember so much. It’s the three hawksbill sea turtles that were casually munching along the top of the reef….where the current was ripping.

The first one had two friends greedily watching for tiny creatures uprooted with the amazingly strong foraging jaws of the turtle. In order to stop and take video and photographs I had to touch the sand….and thankfully with gentle kicking I was able to stay within inches of the huge turtle and capture the best video of my life. Not to mention the absolute thrill of being within inches of the strong jaws of the turtle….who completely ignored me.

The gray angelfish kept blocking the camera, swishing their tails against my mask and hands. What a problem to have…right? Photobombing fish.

The third hawksbill was massive in size. When I swung around to face the current the turtle walked on the bottom just beneath me. I could sense the sea turtle’s energy even though we never touched. My belly hovered just inches above her massive back as she munched on a sponge.

Hours later I still feel it, the strength and fortitude this being has. To survive from a golf-ball sized egg to this size took wits, strength and perhaps a lot of luck. But I’m the one that feels lucky….so amazingly lucky.

After spending five years as a sea turtle volunteer working mostly with unhatched nests and hatchlings as they crawl to water, this was a special treat. And while I’ve had nice encounters with sea turtles while diving, none have come close to any of the three connections I had today.

My mask was inches from the back of the largest turtle and the colors and details of the plates on the shell were incredible. The spotted skin of the head and flippers was brilliant and the eyes looked at me with unconcern…which made me so happy. I was an accepted part of their world, not something to be feared.

Most of what I experienced was visceral and so I reach for words that don’t seem to be there. Somehow I came away feeling the strength of these sea turtles had been shared and my bones now know a little bit more about what being a sea turtle is all about and I carry a little more of their magic in my heart.

Going Home

Going Home

One of my favorite experiences as a wildlife photographer is to be present when an animal that has been hospitalized and rehabilitated is released. This loggerhead sea turtle would stop and dig her  beak into the sand and wait for something to register. While I don’t have a reptilian brain I guessed she was getting her bearings using her sense of smell. Can you imagine after being captured–injured and sick–after living in such a magnificent place as the Gulf of Mexico…dealing with confinement? And then that glorious moment when you realize you have made it home. Home! What a celebration…for everyone.

Where Wild Can Breathe

Where Wild Can Breathe

The Gulf of Mexico called me this morning. Come walk with me. So before sunrise I parked my car and set bare feet upon white sand.

The state park is squeezed on all sides by real estate–expensive real estate. And the former governor…the one forced to resign over shady dealings….set in motion construction of a monument to himself in the form of a convention center and hotel on state park property. Yes, there had been one there before it literally fell apart from repeated bashings from the sea and salty winds. But there is a glut of condos on the beach now and a convention center nearby and a new one being built just north.  But I digress….

Walking along the beach in the state park is a nice respite from walking in front of condos that form a wall of concrete along the Gulf Coast. Little jewels like Gulf State Park, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf Islands National Sea Shore give  wildlife a chance to exist. They allow human’s wild spirits a place to spread out and connect with something greater than ourselves.

This morning I spent time contemplating the fate of our planet. We’re the self-absorbed animals of the planet…the only species willing to destroy our own habitat in order to amass wealth and power that lead to a non-future created by our destructive actions. Such a bizarre species.

It’s weird to witness the current, strange goings-on where decades of effort invested in protecting fragile areas, sacred areas, is being wiped away  in a few months and these amazing places are going to the highest bidder to exploit. Have we forgotten the past?

Remember Erie Canal catching on fire because there was so much pollution in it? Or smog so horrible you couldn’t see in cities like Los Angeles and New York? It’s easy to forget the things we depend on for survival….things like clean air and water. Unregulated corporations and their push for profit-at-any-cost nearly destroyed us. We shouldn’t forget this. Ever.

And yet there is a huge push to roll-back environmental protections and demolish agencies charged to enforce them. And agencies tracking our changing climate. Some people have forgotten our past, our history and how lack of concern, compassion and common sense destroys wildlife and human health.

Places like parks and seashores set aside and protected feed our souls. They remind us of beauty and invite us to walk in beauty….with beauty…and help us be mindful the interconnectedness of all life.

When I visited Johnson Beach–part of Gulf Islands National Seashore–after visiting Gulf State Park this morning, I felt a noticeable difference. It’s protected from development. There’s no hotel on the beach or fishing pier. The only structures seen are wooden boardwalks to protect the dunes, a pavilion area and a narrow roadway that is frequently covered with sand as the beach reclaims it for its own.

In Johnson Beach one can park and walk beyond the road, beyond most human comings and goings, and breathe deeper, fuller. A release of the spirit occurs when we stop looking at watches or cell phones and allow wild beauty to pull us completely into the present moment.

As I stood on the beach there this morning, near a loggerhead sea turtle crawl, I noticed a lightness of energy and freedom that is missing in places overshadowed by high-rise condos or surf shops or tee shirt stores. We need places where wild can breathe deeper and fuller, where nothing comes between nature and humanity.

Rainbow & Dolphin

Rainbow & Dolphin

Photo-bombed by a great blue heron on a time exposure…I actually like it.

There are no guarantees with clouds and light at sunrise…or anytime. But for me to actually plan to be at the beach before sunrise and thus load my gear with the correct bracket attached to my camera, for tripod use, the night before…I admit I was expecting something wonderful.

One could possibly say I am a bit spoiled. I live twenty minutes from the white-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. What some people thrill at seeing once a year I see every day if I choose. So granted, I have no reason to complain.

But the light was really sickly this morning. Seriously, I might have mumbled more than once. It was yellowy, pale, cuckoo light and I was expecting orange, red, salmon….anything but snot yellow.

Honestly, I woke up in a weird mood. I might have hissed at the car driving 25 mph when I was trying to hurry. Just sayin’….I wasn’t in my best happy space.

After over an hour walking and shooting and thinking it was a complete waste of effort, I stopped and had a serious talk with myself. What’s happening, Simone? You’re at the BEACH! This is your happy place. I paused a moment and realized my mind had been wandering…wondering…about the future. I was so caught up in fear-based musings I was missing the present moment.

I just wanted to take something more than frustration from my time on the beach, I whined. Nature always gifts me with a little jewel to ponder and take with me….Okay, so what do I need to do? I know I’m caught in a mind-spin. 

A very clear inner voice said, Be gentle with yourself.

Oh, yeah. That. I thought. (Sigh).

A chant came to mind….I will be gentle with myself, I will love myself for I am child of the Goddess. I started singing out loud as I walked and glanced up from the sand to see a rainbow blob hanging over the end of the long fishing pier. Hey, that’s cool! That’s a nice gift!

Rainbow blob

I stopped and watched the glowing colors for a while as I continued singing. Suddenly a dolphin appeared. It was swimming offshore and as I strengthened my voice, it made a bee-line for the shore where I stood. Okay, I get it! I get it! Be gentle with myself, love myself and just…WOW!

I stood and watched the dolphin surfing in waves breaking over the sand bar for a while and began clapping a rhythm of joy and celebration. Thank you for the reminder! Thank you sister!

It felt as if the dark, snot-colored clouds lifted as I walked with rainbow and dolphin energy surrounding me, lifting me from distraction to being fully present with the beauty all around me. I received the gift, but first had to find the present.

…And with some extra processing in Lightroom I came away with some images that I didn’t hate. You never know what gifts await when engaging with the eternal now moment.


Eating Cookies, Looking for Crocodiles

Eating Cookies, Looking for Crocodiles

_tsl7253The title is no joke. That’s exactly what was happening in my world this morning before diving at Cenote Carwash. Except I wasn’t eating the cookies….but I was quite interested in the crocodile. For more than one reason.

_tsl7274It’s been years since I’ve been cenote diving in Akumal, Mexico. After participating with Connie LoRe’s Cave Dive Mexico for several trips, there has been a break of six or seven years…or maybe more.

_TSL5656My attention in diving has turned to working with my Nikon D800 in an Aquatica housing. I’ve had great joy photographing dolphins, whale sharks, humpback whales, sea lions, manatees and other marine creatures and have enjoyed every second of it.

I was looking for an autumn trip and nothing worked out with the destinations I was considering….Bonaire, Baja. Nothing. The idea of a trip was released and up went the hands one morning, “I give up. If there’s a trip…show me!” Within a couple hours the idea of returning to Akumal surfaced. And before day’s end, it was booked.

_tsl7324It’s the first time I’ve been in an overhead environment with my big camera rig. That’s why I chose to cavern dive in open water gear rather than cave dive. Task loading in diving happens when you add elements to a dive….overhead environment, big camera kit and I’m still relatively new to sidemount cave diving having switched from back mount a couple years ago. Just didn’t want to mix all of that up.

_tsl7319Daniel Ortega Moran is the guide Connie picked for me and I understand why after diving with him today. He’s a cave instructor, cave guide and has a warm, inviting personality. It made for a wonderful day and by the second dive, I was beginning to get the lighting right with my strobes and the hand-held HID cave light I use.

_tsl7432Granted, there was use of Lightroom’s magic in adjusting the lighting during processing but that’s the digital darkroom these days. And those skills are just as important as neutral buoyancy and untangling your regulator hose when it gets tangled in the strobe cord.  Just sayin.’

_tsl7463It’s thundering off shore as I sit and gaze out into the choppy ocean. Excited about three more days of fun diving and playing with the formations, lighting, and camera settings. And of course being under water underground.

_tsl7231A sea turtle nest hatched right beside the patio here last night but sadly a raccoon or similar creature and his buddy ate the babies. No tracks made it to the water. And yes, I am here unwinding from a very eventful sea turtle season in Alabama and thought I’d come here and let all of that go for a few days. But no.

_tsl7483The lesson of the day is this: You cannot escape what you love. Sea turtles and cenote diving in Akumal are just two of those ‘things.’ There are more for certain.

When’s the last time you ate cookies while looking for crocodiles? Hmmmm? That’s exactly what I suspected.


Thank you Daniel for enduring the strobe flashes and letting me practice lighting techniques on you. Your patience is infinite.