The turtle is an iconic reptile that has fortunately started to make a comeback after nearly being wiped out as a general species in the demand for turtle meat and tortoiseshell before the 1950s. Columbus named the islands we now call the Caymans as Las Tortugas because there were so many turtles. He thought that Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were in fact joined together because there were so many turtles punctuating the surface of the water between them.
There are several different species including the giant leatherback but the turtles you are most likely to encounter whilst scuba diving are the loggerhead, the hawksbill turtle and the green turtle, so called because of the green tinge to the fat of its meat.
So what’s the secret of getting good photographs of turtles? You might unintentionally ambush a turtle that is swimming through open water and if you are calm and appear to offer no threat, you might be lucky enough that it comes close. Just let it come to you. If you have a fish-eye dome port on your camera that might even entice a hawksbill turtle to approach really closely. It might even give your dome port and exploratory bite, which is when you can get a good close-up. That’s because hawksbill turtles will feed on jellyfish and your dome port looks suspiciously like one. Alas, so do plastic bags and these can be a common reason for the demise of turtles.
Hawksbill turtles also feed on sponges. A feeding turtle takes its food seriously and this is a good opportunity to approach slowly and carefully with your camera. Appear to offer no threat and the turtle will carry on feeding.
It’s the same with green turtles but these feed on vegetation like seagrasses and algaes. If you come across a feeding green turtle and approach it cautiously it will ignore you and let you get off lots of shots of it.
A roosting turtle will also let you get close-up photographs if you do not disturb it. Good places to find large numbers of roosting turtles are Sipadan Island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo and Apo Island in the Philippines. The bigger the turtle the less daunted it is by your approach. Turtles have regular favourite roosting sites so if you dive in the same place day after day, you can usually come back to the spot and find the turtle resting where you expect it to be. Never chase a turtle. You can increase its heart-rate by doing so and cause it to go to the surface for a refill of air before would otherwise need to.
What sort of camera do you need? Turtles are great subjects for close-focus wide-angle shots. Get a wide-angle or fish-eye wet lens for your compact camera or iPhone in its waterproof case, or go into the water equipped with a wide-angle prime lens behind a dome port. Turtles are iconic creatures and everyone will enjoy looking at the pictures you achieve.