In March, I traveled to Hawaii for a few weeks to explore the spectacular diversity of Maui, the archipelago’s second-largest island – and to photograph the Honolulu skyline for my “American Waters” series, to be shown in 22 Lumas galleries scattered around the world. During my three-week trip, I experienced the island of Maui in a very special way.

Not far from Paia, I find a small bay which, to my delight, looks deserted – at least for today. At first glance, there are a bunch of large rocks in the water, just off the beach. But on closer inspection, I am astonished to see that the “rocks” are actually large clusters of sea turtles, letting the waves push them onto the beach, one by one. As elegant and weightless as they appear in the water, they are no less impressive on the shore. As I watch, new sea turtles keep arriving ashore to rest in the sun.

Hawaii is a great place for giant turtles. Firstly, the warm climate and abundant vegetation on the islands provide an ideal environment for them. In addition, there are no natural predators here that could pose a threat. The giant species that lives in Hawaii is the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), called honu in the Hawaiian language. This turtle species is known for its impressive size, and is named for the green color of its fat and cartilage. Today, green sea turtles are strictly protected. They play an important role in balancing the Hawaiian ecosystem by fulfilling various functions: The turtles feed mainly on seagrass and algae, especially young algae growing on the coral reefs. Through their grazing behavior, they keep algal growth in check and thus enable the survival of corals and other marine organisms.

When the turtles go ashore to lay their eggs, they dig holes in the sand. Their excretions bring nutrients from the sea into the soil. This promotes the growth of plants which, in turn, nourish other animals. The nesting sites created by the turtles also provide a habitat for other species. For example, birds use the turtles’ abandoned nests to lay their own eggs.

The turtles are also a key tourist attraction. Their protection and conservation help to raise awareness of dangers posed to the marine environment. Overall, Hawaiian green sea turtles help maintain biodiversity and ecological balance in the archipelagic waters.

To avoid disturbing these beautiful creatures, I keep a respectful distance. Thanks to my APO-Televid and an adapter, I can use my Leica SL2 to take full-frame photos of distant animals without them noticing my presence. I lie down on the sand and wait for more visitors from the sea. This makes me realize a few things. Unfortunately, there are not only beautiful things to witness. The turtles often show me what an imposition we humans are on the oceans and their inhabitants. Time and again I discover turtles with plastic on their bodies or tumors on their heads or flippers.

Here on Maui, far away from the big cities and industries, our impact on nature is becoming increasingly apparent. These gentle giants thus involuntarily act as ambassadors of the oceans: The turtles carry the problems we have caused ashore, making them visible to everyone. Nonetheless, it’s the beautiful moments that stand out when admiring these breathtaking creatures in the wild. Finally, on the last day of my trip, I even have the opportunity to swim with them – at a distance, or course, so as not to disturb them in their natural habitat. The elegance with which these huge animals float through the water is incredible. Again and again, I find well-camouflaged turtles on the seabed, perched on rock formations, having their shells cleaned by small fish in a literal “car(apace) wash”.

In another unexpected highlight, I hear whale song – at a diving depth of just one meter. And so I experience an impressive underwater ensemble of whale song and visual wonders while floating in weightlessness. What an experience! Enriched and moved by these many new impressions, I realize once again how important it is to protect the oceans, which are vital for us humans as well as for the climate, and to protect them from further overfishing, plastic contamination, and acoustic pollution.

Products in use

Leica Spotting Scopes

Leica APO-Televid

Leica Compact Binoculars

Leica Trinovid BCA

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