24 Apr 2018

24 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Six: Passengers Behaving Badly

We had a great guided trip on 23 Apr on Ascension Island (see earlier Blog Posts). But the day wasn't over. After dinner, we were back into the zodiacs to go ashore to look for Green Turtles on Long Beach. The Conservation Dept team were back out again to guide people. After a presentation, while they were looking for egg-laying female Green Turtles, we were led in groups of around 15 along the road at the back of the beach. We were asked to wait on the road, until a female was found so that a group could be taken to see the egg-laying. Unfortunately, few Green Turtles were found that night & the group I was in stayed on the road. We did see a Green Turtle from the road, but not up close & personal. Apparently, once they start egg-laying, having a group of quiet people appear up close will not disturb them, providing there are no white lights & obviously no flash guns going off.
Green Turtle: While everybody else was misbehaving on the beach, I spotted this Green Turtle that had been overlooked in the darkness. I took a few photos & quickly left her, hoping others wouldn't see her. Unfortunately, a few others did see her & then insisted of standing around like prats talking & photographing her, including one well known UK Birder who should have known better. He is not one of the passengers whose mugshot appears on my Blog
We still had the following morning & I was up early enough to ensure I was on the first zodiac, with all zodiacs departing in the dark. However, that didn't help as once we were ashore, we were all kept on the quayside until everybody had made it. A second problem quickly became obvious that only three members of the Conservation Dept had arrived to guide everybody. Perhaps not surprising as they had all worked a very long day with the guided tour & then being out late on the evening guided tour. Like us, the few who appeared had only had a few hours sleep. There were few Green Turtles on the beach just before first light. As a result, the decision was made that just about everybody was going to be allowed to see one Green Turtle. Consequently, everybody stood no further than ten metres from this poor Green Turtle in three quarter circle. I had knelt down to present a lower profile, but the reality is nobody else thought to follow this action. Not surprisingly this large group of people spooked the Green Turtle which hadn't started egg laying & she tried moving back towards the sea. Next thing, one of the European non Birders decided that he had to stand in the middle of the open part of the circle and block the route for the Green Turtle to the sea. That was something we had been told explicitly not to do, but I guess if you are a prat, you are excluded from doing what you are told to do. A few people must have told him to move, but soon after he was replaced by another prat in the same place. I can't believe it not stressful for a Green Turtle to be surrounded by such a large group of people. She left & briefly attempted to try another nesting hollow, but was pursued by virtually everybody. I was disgusted by the uncontrolled behaviour of the group & returned to the back of the beach, to find just one other passenger had also walked away. With the posse following close to the Green Turtle, she ended up abandoning egg-laying & returned to the sea. By this time, it was light, so perhaps she was too late to have got ashore & successfully lay eggs, but I still don't think that gives the other passengers the right to act inconsiderately to the Green Turtles.
Just a small part of the posse who pursued the Green Turtle to the water: Albeit, as she got closer they finally lined up at right angles to the water, rather than in a broad line a few metres behind the Green Turtle
What I think should have happened is while we were on the quayside, we were asked to split into two groups based on who had been successful in being led to a Green Turtle the previous night or not. Then formed up into a line to go the beach, with those who hadn't been successful at the front of the line. Once a Green Turtle had been found, then a group of 15 could have been led off to spent a few minutes up close with a Green Turtle, before being asked to return to the road, while the next group were led up. That would have given everybody a fairer chance at seeing a Green Turtle up close. Secondly, the Expedition staff should have been asked to help organise this, given few of the Conservation Dept had been able to return. The smaller groups would have been more manageable & if anybody didn't want to behave, then they should have been told by the Expedition staff to return to the quayside. I got the impression that we had a larger number of passengers than the Conservation Dept were used to dealing with & they were not used to having to deal with large groups. If any of the Conservation Dept are reading this, then perhaps this will help deal with large groups in the future. I'm not having a go at the Conservation Dept staff, as they still had to head off to do their normal day jobs that morning, but I'm trying to provide some suggestions for the future. While everybody else was behaving badly, I ended up staying at the back of the beach & photographed passing Ascension Island Frigatebirds. It was a very frustrating start to the morning.