Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Other Side of Bequia

Bequia, Caribbean---You have to remember that when I was here for two weeks over Christmas and New Years, I was sick for 10 days of that. Where I spent time, besides the local hospital, was in only one area: the strip of shops and restaurants along the harbor.

Now I’m back. Sailing on the OceansWatch boat and we have work to do. After getting a team photo staged and a press release written, and I was able to get a meeting with the Editor of the main Cruisers monthly newspaper: COMPASS MAGAZINE whose editorial office just happens to be here although the publication is all over the Caribbean.

The other thing I did was hire a taxi to take Jake and me to the other side of the island to the Turtle Sanctuary that we had heard about. Just going there was a great ride in the back of the pickup truck taxi showing me the other side of the island, plush and beautiful. Looking down on the multi-color shades of blue and aqua water gave me a different perspective on this sweet little island of only 4000 people.

“It’s hard, I get no help from the government, not even encouragement,” said Orton (Brother) King, founder of the Bequia Turtle Sanctuary.

The Founder with OceansWatch team member Jake
 This was his personal project that started twelve years ago when baby turtles burst out of a nest and walked across his lap as he was sitting on the beach. He knew these endangered turtles would not have much of a chance to survive. The old man was white in this highly populated island of blacks, but spoke with a pure Caribbean accent and looked like what I imagine Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea's character looked like. A self described “man of the sea” he showed me several small bumps on his arms.

“See, I been in da water so long barnacles day grow on me,” he chuckled.

His old house overlooking the ocean faces a beach were the turtles are first recovered. They are brought to holding tanks and as they grow, they are graduated to different tanks. After 2-5 years, they are released into the wild and the process continues.

“Divers are seeing me turtles. Day tell me 'bout seeing dem at the reefs.”

A special mark, a double punched out tiny hole, is put in the back of their shell before release.

Camera hogs!
 Funding comes only from the visitors that find the sanctuary and donations.

As someone who saw the "turtle battle" in Daytona Beach, Florida between developers using the shield of protected turtles as a way to get private beaches and beach lovers who wanted to continue to drive on the beach, a rare opportunity on any beach in the world.  All businesses had to block all lights facing the ocean, even the Burger King across the street had to install an ugly yellow light inside their sign.  I didn't know the turtle's side of the story then. I hadn't educated myself and was more in favor of turtle stew than turtle rescue.

I still think that humans and nature can co-exist and the Canaveral Seashore should be used to move nests but I certainly have a new love for turtles. Yes, it's true. I've changed.

These creatures are beautiful. There is no other word. It is legal to hunt them in Bequia, but there are rules on how and net fishing is poaching and goes on in the light of day. Patrolling is the problem, the lack of resources.

As I walked back through though the village, most outdoor vendors had bracelets of tortoise shell.
"Is this real?" I asked
"Yes, so beautiful. Tortoise Shell, you buy lady?" they pitched.
"Where did you get the shell?" I asked half teasing and half serious.
"No, no, I deed not kill da turtle. We buy da shell and make da jewelry."

And it might be a shock to my friends but I did not buy. Although it was beautiful jewelry. I turned away.

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