I had been so eager to swim with turtles all afternoon. Now, finally face-to-face with them while crouching at the entrance to a tidal pond looking at these creatures paddling hard in a race to reach the food that has just been thrown in, I am unexpectedly timid.
First, their numbers are overwhelming. I can spot at least 15 of all sizes and ages.
These green turtles, so called because of the colour of the fat found under their dorsal section and not because of their shells whose colours ranged from brown to olive-black. The turtles are rather harmless. Yet, looking at their necks that look like snakes, I struggle to muster the courage to overcome my fear.
After a little coaxing from a friend, who settled for paying the $7 (Sh700) required to simply watch and feed, I take a deep breath and walk into the cold water.
Eager to feed on the sea-grass next to me and perhaps a little keen to play as well, the turtles come rushing towards me and suddenly I can feel their flippers and shells rubbing against my skin under the water as they swim about. Some even swim up and look right at my face, as though keen to have a conversation. I find their touch ticklish and cannot help but laugh and squeal, just to get over the fear.
Once I get comfortable, there is no getting me out. Looking at these gentle creatures, it is hard to imagine them being caught in fishermen’s nets — which is how a lot of them die — or being hunted for their meat.
On a previous trip to Lamu Island, I had watched several newly-hatched sea turtles wildly flapping their little feet on the golden sand as they made a beeline for the sea in what would normally be a race for survival before being attacked by sand crabs and other predators.
Places like Baraka Natural Aquarium in Nungwi, Zanzibar exist to provide a refuge for rescued turtles.
However, one might argue that unlike Mnarani Turtle Conservation Pond located right next door and is involved in research, conservation and the re-release of turtles back into the sea, Baraka is primarily a business, but aren’t a lot of conservation centres in East Africa also profitable businesses? I paid $10 (Sh1,000) to swim with the turtles.
Nungwi is one of Zanzibar’s beaches that are more popular and it is often crowded. We were the only guests at the pond, so I would suggest visiting later in the day after most people have left.
Many of the island’s high-end hotels are built on these pristine shores. The island is also close to Kendwa, so if you visit, expect epic full moon parties.