The shallow waters around the sand cays are the highways of the hawksbill turtle. Data and measurements of these big sea reptiles are always welcomed by the world of science and the obtaining of a specimen never lacks excitement.
A yell from the Seychellois boatman alerts his companions. The helmsman jams the tiller round, shoes are hastily clamped on bare sunburned feet and the chase is on. At the crucial moment a near naked man leaps over the side onto the turtle’s back, arms and legs dangling at the ready to wrap around the horny carapace. Man and beast disappear in a cascade of sparkling water as the others redistribute their weight to prevent the little craft capsizing.
The combatants surface in each other’s arms and, amid a welter of flying spray, the man manoeuvres the outraged animal onto his head – upside down- no mean feat when their relative weights are taken into account.
Willing hands help the captive into the boat, where he is ‘turned turtle’ – from which ignominious position he is powerless to escape. But rope is secured around one flipper, just in case. The boat’s other occupants keep clear of the pointed yellow beak so far as the cramped conditions allow. Not for nothing is Eretmochelys imbricate called the hawksbill turtle! Nor do they ignore the two tooth-like claws on the outer edge of each flipper.
But the turtle’s armoury has served him little in the unequal struggle against exploitation by man. Fortunately for the hawksbill;, the tortoiseshell for which he was formerly prized is going out of fashion in favour of the more easily obtained plastic substitutes, so his lot may improve. Soup provided by his Aldabran neighbour, the green turtle, however, is still relished by unscrupulous gourmets and the trade in turtle soup is by no means at an end, although the designers of the Lord Mayor of London’s banquets have recently seen the light.
Old turtle bones make admirable levellers-up for my table legs, which never stands firm without, but some always handy. Make good scrapers, flat ones for cleaning rubble off sand, thinner ones for getting mud and oil off shoes. Got quite a bit of the 'tortoiseshell' of the green (turtle) but sticks to bone longer and peels away in irregular pieces instead of detaching as whole plates like tortoise ones. Also a useful weapon for chasing away the grandfather of all coconut crabs entering the tent for a nights foraging as I ate supper.