It’s really wonderful news when mankind takes affirmative action to protect an endangered species. Last Friday we did just that for the leatherback sea turtle. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared a nearly 42,000 square mile area along the West Coast of the US as a new protected marine habitat. This is the largest protect area ever established in US waters.
First listed as an endangered species in 1970, leatherbacks are the largest sea turtles in the world. Measuring up to 7 feet (2 meters) long and more than 2000 pounds (900 kilograms), they are believed to live at least 40 years and possibly up to 100 years. Truly the old giants of the sea turtle family, the worldwide numbers of this magnificent creature have dropped by 95% since 1980 due to commercial fishing, disease, changing ocean conditions, egg poaching and destruction of their nesting and foraging habitats.
The leatherback is also the great explorer of the sea turtle family. They have the widest global distribution of all reptile species and can be located in the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea. Prior to their population decline, the leatherback sea turtle could be photographed in every ocean except the polar regions. The adult leatherbacks still travel as far north as Canada and Norway and as far south as New Zealand and South America. These global trotters also have the longest migrations of any sea turtle, venturing around 3700 miles (6000 kilometres) between breeding and feeding.
After leaving their nesting grounds in Australia, Indonesia and Mexico, the leatherbacks can now take refuge in the West Coast waters where they feast on jellyfish. As one of the best feeding areas, the turtles have been drawn to this area for many years despite the high levels of ship traffic, long nets and fishing hooks. Now a designated safe haven, the turtles will now have a better chance of survival. However some say the Federal regulators have not gone far enough, as the protected zone does not include the migration routes that the turtles typically take to get to the feeding grounds. Whilst the decision is a step in the right direction, many believe that the species should have received the extra 28,686 square miles of habitat as originally proposed.
If you are ever fortunate enough to encounter these ancient creatures as they feed in the waters off the Pacific Northwest, then follow these underwater photography tips to make the most of this rare experience:
> Under the water the light spectrum is very different to that on land. So the best advice is to get close to your subject, turn off auto flash and use a manual flash or strobe light. That said, you should always maintain a safe distance so as to not disturb or harm the wildlife. This is especially true with endangered species such as the leatherback sea turtle.
> If your subject is flooded in natural light, then to avoid the natural light wiping out your colours, you should consider using a small aperture or fast shutter speed to reduce the amount of natural light.
> On land we always say to shoot with the sun behind you, however when taking wide-angle shots underwater, it can be a good idea to shoot with the sun behind the subject. This will make the subject dark and give you a bright blue water colour. You will then need to use your flash or strobe to light the subject.
> For horizontal shots, position your strobe lights either side of your camera. For vertical shots, position your strobe lights with one above and one to the side.
> Shoot at around 100 ISO and aperture F5.6 – F11 (higher if shooting into the sun).
> Wide-angle and macro lenses are great for underwater photography. If you’re looking for a unique shot, then try a fisheye lens.