I had the best job in the world. I spent my days on the most beautiful beaches in the world, going from one pristine island to another and swimming in crystal clear waters teeming with such amazing marine life. Wait, was that a dream vacation I just described? Well you can just imagine what it was like to actually get paid to do them! It was like being in this giant playground with my parents telling me I’d get an allowance if I had as much fun as possible. Go play outside, you say? No problemo! You’ll pay me? Even better! While I’m at it, go snorkel and look for sea turtles? Totally awesome, dude!!! So armed with my flippers and snorkel, look for sea turtles I did.
For the record, I had seen neither scale nor carapace of a sea turtle until we launched the Turtle Tracking Tour in February 2009, not even in an oceanarium. So much for being an Environmental Officer, I thought to myself. Worried I’d look like a complete nitwit talking about something I’d never even seen, I started reading anything and everything about them that I could find. Weeks before the launch, I lived and breathed sea turtles, thought nothing except sea turtles, even dreamed about sea turtles. I also visited the nesting beaches with Kuya Rey, our Environmental Enforcement Officer, and Kuya Bebot, our land guard at Dilumacad Island at the time and our sea-turtle-nest-finder-extraordinaire, to make sure that the turtle nests were well-protected. We’d hang out on the beach after we checked the nests and wait until our ride from Miniloc picked us up. One time, the three of us crammed ourselves into Kuya Bebot’s small banca only to arrive at the resort an hour later, completely drenched in seawater. Great times, I tell you.
The very first Turtle Tracking tour saw a lot of families join in and it has stayed that way over the years. I remember the trepidation I felt when I first gave a talk in front of our guests. I always do that. I worry myself sick before giving a talk or a presentation only to realize later that I actually enjoy doing it. It’s always a blast to talk about nature so talking about sea turtles, even if I’d never seen one at the time, was a great way to spend thirty minutes of the day. When I saw my first ever sea turtle during the tour, I literally had to stop myself from freaking out and chasing after it as it swam away. I can just imagine what an impression that would’ve made! So to keep my dignity intact, I just screamed and freaked out inside my head, if such a thing is possible, and swallowed a lot of seawater in the process.
Each tour had its quirks, just as the sea had its moods. There were days when the water would be so calm, the sun so bright, and the sky so blue I would’ve stayed in the water all day if I could. Other times the water would be so cold and choppy and the sky a depressing shade of pewter gray that all I could think of was heading back to the boat and wrapping myself in a warm towel. Some days we saw lots of sea turtles, other times not even a shadow. On really lucky days we got to release sea turtle hatchlings, other days we had to content ourselves with looking at the nests and strolling along the beach in search of fresh turtle tracks, which wasn’t such a bad thing when you think about it. During the three years that I conducted the tour with our amazing local guides and many wonderful guests, I got stung by jellyfish so many times, I can’t even begin to count the number of welts and rashes I took home as souvenirs. My once fair skin also slowly turned into a shade of burnt mahogany. But no matter the weather, the sea condition, the number of jellyfish stings, or the color of my skin, one thing was always certain – I had lots and lots of fun.
The Turtle Tracking Tour is now on its fourth year, and for the first time I won’t be there to conduct it. It’s hard to pick what I liked best about my job as an Environmental Officer, but conducting the tour is definitely one of the things at the very top of the list. It’s now summertime in the Philippines, which means it’s already turtle hatching and turtle tracking season in El Nido. I sometimes ask myself why I’m not at the beach right now looking for turtle nests and turtle tracks, but every time I ask myself that question, I think of the sea turtles I left behind and I get the same answer every time: there’s a time to be at the beach, and there’s a time to head out to sea and ride the currents of life. If you’re strong enough to survive, one day you just might find your flippers taking you back home. Totally awesome, dude.Rima de Dios.