Thursday, May 23, 2013

HAPPY WORLD TURTLE DAY (5/23/13): The Best Turtle Story Ever

Turtle in Argostoli Harbor

In recognition of World Turtle Day, my Red Eared Sliders - Stuart and Ernesto (or "Stunesto" as their portmanteau goes) - felt I should post something about turtles.

This story, called "The Five Most Ridiculous Minutes of my Life" is a repost from my Bikespedition-2009 blog.  It took place in Greece on the island of Kefalonia during the month I worked with sea turtles through the Katelios Group.  Originally written in July 2009 and it took place the night of Jun 30 / July 1 of that same year.  TURTLE POWER!

There is a rule that there is no smoking during night shift on the beach. But, after this ordeal, I broke that rule. I simply said, “uhhh…I need a cigarette after that.” The others laughed.

Quiet had descended upon us. As I took my second or third drag I broke the silence: “Well that was the five most ridiculous minutes of my life.” The other three concurred.

The whole thing had started about 45 minutes before. Lily and I were on Kamina Beach for night shift. We received a text message from the Potamakia team: “Turtle – Come Now.”

Lily and I made our way down the beach, walking at a good clip. We found Ian and Florian looking at a nesting turtle. Both declared this turtle a “dumb turtle.” She had only laid 20-30 eggs before coving up her nest. They had not had time to tag and measure her, which is normally done in the egg laying phase.

If you miss the tagging part, you are to grab her while she walks to the sea. Then, you stop her and tag-and-measure. Ian and I developed a simple plan:

Jesse – move first grab and stop the turtle
Ian – move in second grab her rear left flipper
Florian – move third and tag her rear left flipper
Lily – come in last and measure the carapace of the turtle.

It was quite simple and could have been effective. Any military man will tell you however, plans work well until you make contact with the objective. After that, who knows?

Well, the first part of the plan worked flawlessly. I moved in first and grabbed the turtle. It was the stopping her that was the issue. I held her for a few seconds as Ian moved in. Then however, it all went to hell.

The Mediterranean Sea Turtle can be over 100 kg (larger than me). She was surprisingly strong. As she pulled me a bit forward, Ian let go of the flipper and dove on her. I then slid down to the flipper.

“Tag her, tag her!” I yelled.

Then in a remarkably measured and calm voice I heard Lily say: “he’s lost the tag.”


Sure enough, there was Florian looking around about the sand for the tag that had dropped from the “tagging gun” [see “Meeting K206,” below]. 

“Grab another tag!”

“Shit, I can’t hold her.”

“I got another tag.”

“She’s getting away.”

Now, as Florian was busily trying to get the new tag into the tag gun and head off the turtle, Ian and I were trying to hold her back. “Shit, she’s almost to the sea.”

Ian then stood up and calmly said six words I probably will never forget: “That’s it, we gotta flip her.”

I stood; Ian pushed while I pulled from under the carapace. In surprisingly well timed work, in concert Ian and I grabbed and flipped the turtle over in one easy motion. So easily that, we almost flipped her 360 degrees back onto her feet! 

In the commotion the turtle had slapped Ian across the face. Later he was to say, “Well I did flip her over; I guess I deserved it.”

Now, we had this mammoth sea turtle on her back at the edge of the sea. She was flailing all four of her flipper and flinging sand everywhere. (She also gave Ian another slap.)

I grabbed her back left flipper (which was actually her right one as she was upside-down). Florian was able to fight through the mini turtle-created sand storm and clip tag K209 into her. 

We then flipped her back onto her feet and hastily measured her carapace and released her from our research. She walked back into the sea to probably tell the other turtles: “Fuck that shit, I’m never going back to that beach.”

This is not K209; this is the Dawn Visitor from the night before.


Tino Pai and Happy World Turtle Day to you and your turtles,

Jesse, Stuart and Ernesto


  1. So glad you recorded this moment so accurately mate, definitely something to tell the grand kids! - Ian

    1. Thanks Ian,

      Probably one of the top 5 best stories of my life...