Photo of the Month (April 2024 Edition): Eretmochelys imbricata



About 8 years ago, during my first visit to Ilhabela, on the São Paulo coast, I envisioned a photograph that I still haven’t been able to capture. Snorkeling one late afternoon at Portinho Beach, I saw a turtle emerging from the water to breathe, almost aligned with the low Sun on the horizon. Since then, the desire to photograph a turtle breathing at sunset has lingered within me. I’ve had several ideas on how to execute the photo, but few opportunities.


In March 2024, I decided it was time to make this photo. I spent almost a month on the island and managed to snorkel for 15 non-consecutive afternoons at Portinho Beach in pursuit of the photograph of the turtle breathing at sunset. In each dive, for various reasons, I didn’t quite get what I wanted, but I ended up taking many other photos, besides befriending some turtles that inhabit there.


Portinho Beach is a refuge for many green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata). Indeed, the concentration of sea turtles in that place is very high, and this is due to several reasons, such as the environmental protection of the Ilhabela State Park, but also to the human waste deposited there, which, in current concentrations, favor the environment for these animals to feed – at the expense of others that become contaminated or flee from there.


During all those afternoons, I encountered various conditions, from calm seas and very clear water to rough seas with a lot of suspended material and terrible visibility. I also accumulated sightings of both species and began to recognize some individuals. One, in particular, a very large and old green turtle, with several decades of age, and covered in barnacles on its shell, was the most difficult to photograph. On my first encounter with her, the camera battery ran out. On the second, the memory card filled up. On the third, the waterproof housing flooded, and I got out of the water as quickly as I could. After that, the waterproof housing ceased to function properly, and the maneuvers became riskier. I could no longer dive, only stay on the surface to avoid posing any risk to the photographic equipment. And so, this incident forced me to stay only at the waterline, experimenting with other compositions.


On an afternoon of rough seas, after the weather suddenly changed, the situation with the weakened waterproof housing was putting the photographic mission at risk. Already giving up to find that large turtle again, as I was swimming back on the surface to the beach, I spotted another hawksbill turtle, usually gentler than the green turtles. Both globally and nationally, it is considered an endangered species, mainly due to marine pollution, ghost nets, and hunting, but it’s not difficult to spot them near Portinho.


Unable to dive to photograph it because of the waterproof housing, I waited on the surface. At that moment, the south wind picked up, and the weather had completely closed in. Visibility worsened significantly, and I was about to give up waiting for this turtle to approach the surface to try to take some photos. And it’s almost always when you’re about to give up that the magic happens. She finally surfaced but didn’t breathe. For some reason, she went back down, along with a relatively large wave that passed by. And with the housing at the waterline, I took this photo.


I collected gigabytes of turtle photos and marine landscape from Portinho, and I’m still not convinced that this is the best of all. In fact, I haven’t even edited most of them; I just skimmed through the material as I transferred the photos from the camera to the hard drive. With good weather and patience, it’s relatively easy to photograph the turtles there with impressive light during the afternoon. But, looking at the photos I’ve selected so far, despite the dimmer light than the others, the worse sea visibility, and the overexposed sky, I think this one is the most unique of all, and that’s why I chose it for this photo of the month edition*.


Regarding my large, old friend with barnacles on her shell, I know that towards the end of the expedition, I managed to get some good photos of her near the surface; I just haven’t had time for the editing and curation work yet because I’m in the middle of a fieldwork project in the Amazon, as mentioned in the previous post. But I will return to the island, and hopefully, I’ll be able to bring back the photo of the turtle breathing at sunset for the photo of the month.


*Last month, I decided to change the name of the photo of the month section. Since I usually only publish the previous month’s photo at the end of the current month, it makes more sense to call it “April edition” than “March photo.” The content remains the same: I will always present a photo taken last month in the edition, and the reason for this is related to a personal challenge. I’ll have more news about the “photo of the month” soon, so subscribe to learn more.