A man in a wetsuit leaps off a speeding boat straight into the crystal-blue waters off Borneo. There’s a quick struggle underwater before he emerges victorious, holding his flapping prize aloft.
They’ve been on Earth for over 100 million years but marine turtles are amongst the most endangered animals on the planet.
And in order to save them, they need to be caught so they can be tagged, measured, weighed, sexed and released.
Global turtle expert Dr Nick Pilcher, who loves them so much he’s earned the nickname ‘Dr Turtle’, is a pioneer of turtle-wrangling, and it’s instrumental in preserving their population.
All seven turtle species are listed either as ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’, as around the world they are accidentally caught by fishing trawlers, or hunted deliberately for their meat, shells and skin.
This time around, Dr Pilcher is joined in Borneo, a major turtle habitat, by Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski – presenter of the YouTube series Borneo from Below, by Scubazoo – who’s helping him carry out his vital and tricky conservation work.
Bertie says, ‘I had no idea how difficult it was going to be just catching the turtles.
‘You have to get everything right: timing the jump, judging the distance from the surface to the turtle, keeping hold of a wriggly, slippery animal. And turtles are incredibly powerful!
‘I think I only caught a handful in about 30 attempts and ached for days after. Because of Dr Pilcher we now understand so much more about these turtle populations so the aches and pains were well worth it.’
And while they aren’t happy to be caught, Bertie insists that the turtles recover quickly from the experience of being tagged, and that it’s the least stressful way to do it.
‘As Dr Pilcher mentions, no-one would like being jumped on and then tackled by someone in a wetsuit.
But turtle wrangling is widely thought to be the most effective way of catching turtles and causes them the least amount of stress compared to other capture methods.
‘Turtles were around before the dinosaurs – over 100 million years – and have survived mass extinctions. They are incredibly resilient animals so this is small fry in terms of the bigger picture.’