Roebuck Bay, Western Australia - rocks and birds
Red rocks and big flocks of roosting shorebirds are signature Roebuck Bay images. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

A rescue and a spooky thing

It wasn’t exactly Baywatch – no cameras or ripped lifeguards – but it was a rescue just the same.

The mini drama unfolded while sheltering from the relentless sun behind some rocks on a deserted beach about 30 km south of Broome on Australia’s northwest coast.

The tides are notoriously big in those parts, and I was sitting out a 10.5 m beauty that had compromised my return route to camp.

Not a bad place though to contemplate one’s navel: eroded orange (pindan) cliffs, narrow beaches and piled up remnants of an ancient seabed all around, milky surf and an azure Indian Ocean out front. About 300 m to the right, the ebbing tide would soon reveal the 130 million-year-old footprints of several dinosaur species …

Waving for help

There was something moving down among some rocks near the tideline. It seemed to be waving for help; probably a sandbar shark discarded by local fishermen.

In fact, it was a green sea turtle, wedged tightly in the rocks where it may have been feeding and became stranded by the rapidly receding tide.

If you’ve ever tried to lift a mature green turtle you will know they are heavy and have very powerful front flippers. They also don’t like being picked up, and this one dealt me several strong blows to the forearm.

Freed green turtle resting between rocks
Our green turtle, exhausted but freed from the rocks that could have cost her life. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Barnacle-encrusted

But in the best lifesaver traditions, the rescue was completed and the beautiful, albeit barnacle-encrusted, creature slowly dragged herself back into the sea. Was that a ‘wave’ of thanks I saw?

I say ‘her’ because female green turtles are apparently more abundant than males, and she also appeared to have a shortish tail (another sign, I’m told).

Worryingly, the barnacles evident around her big coal-black eyes, and on both flippers, can apparently cover turtles to such an extent that they are blind and disabled.

Barnacles on rescued green turtle
The rescued green turtle – did she really ‘wave’ to him? Photo: ©Tony Neilson

No autograph

Regardless, it was a great feeling being able to do a wild creature a favour – even it there was nobody around to applaud or ask for want a selfie with the hero.

And here’s a spooky thing: as my turtle slid under the waves, I swear I saw four others poke their heads above water about 20 m out. Were they looking for their mate or just coming up for air? I like to think the former.

(Footnote: The area where this event occurred is now part of a world-renowned conservation area known as the Yawuru Nagulagun/Roebuck Bay Marine Park.)

Natural Images ©2017

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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