Nesting Leatherback Sea Turtle

Nesting Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest of the 7 species of sea turtle, are vulnerable to extinction, and are a very rare encounter. They regularly nest along Florida’s East Coast during late spring and early summer, but finding them is still difficult. To make this image I accompanied professional researchers in the field. It is important to note that care was taken not to disturb the turtle. Sea turtles are sensitive and will abort nesting if harassed possibly leading to a loss of that egg clutch. As such this turtle, known to the researchers as Xena (first tagged in 2010), was not approached too closely and no artificial light was used in creating this image. These are important practices to follow if lucky enough to encounter a nesting turtle of any species.

Given the above conditions photographing this leatherback was a challenge. Without artificial light a long exposure was required. We chose a full moon for the attempt to ensure that there was sufficient ambient light, but even so I had to push my camera to its limits. At ISO 6400 with a one second exposure many shots contained motion blur and the image quality was dramatically reduced. This image at ISO 3200 yielded reasonable quality, but required a four second exposure. Many frames were wasted as the turtle moved, but finally, I managed to capture a long pause as she rested yielding a sharp image. I am pleased with the result, which contains a very special subject and also captures the beauty of an exquisitely calm night on the beach under the full moon.

To learn more about these turtles and contribute to research and conservation visit:

Manta at the Boiler ©Bryant Turffs

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