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Turtle rescuer Josh heads to UK to study

Royal Gazette
Monday, October 9, 2017

Owain Johnston-Barnes
Published Oct 9, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 9, 2017 at 4:06 pm)

Joshua Stephens with Chad the loggerhead turtle
(photograph by Taj Pacleb)

Last year, Joshua Stephens cut free a loggerhead turtle found tangled in an abandoned cargo net in the waters off Wreck Hill.

For Mr Stephens, who had long sought a career in marine biology, it was the final piece of the puzzle bringing him to join the Bermuda Turtle Project.

“It really helped me initially understand what the BTP has to go through,” he said.

Now entering his foundation course at Plymouth University in Britain, Mr Stephens said he had been interested in ocean life since he was a child.

Mr Stephens, 21, said: “I was always fascinated with the underwater world, and living in Bermuda, where you can’t go ten minutes down the road without seeing the ocean, further strengthened my passion.

“Over the past five years, I have put myself out in the marine biology and conservation community, making many connections along the way with marine biologists and enthusiasts across Bermuda.

“I do plan to come back to Bermuda eventually with a wealth of knowledge and contacts across the world. It may be a while before I am living in Bermuda permanently, but eventually I will live out my life in the place I was born.”

He said he had been approached by Jennifer Gray, director of the BTP and a family friend, about joining for several years but was unable to because he was off island or working.

It was while he was working for Blue Water Divers that he and his co-workers discovered the turtle — whom they named Chad — caught in debris.

“The net was a massive mass of entanglement, and Chad was pretty much enshrouded within it,” he said.

“From the notch of his shell behind its neck to the notch at the base of his shell, the net pulled tighter and tighter with every single movement.

“In order to get him to relax in the water so it doesn’t splash or bite, I had to flip him over on his back so he didn’t have his face in the water so he didn’t drown himself.”

Even after Chad was freed from the net, the rescue was not over. Watching the turtle, they discovered that he seemed to be unable to dive below the water.

“I had seen from pictures and videos of what BTP does to calm turtles, so I asked [co-worker] Ina-Bianca Kuesters to get me a noodle to place under Chad as I turned him over on to his back and had him relax,” he said.

Chad was taken to the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, where he remained in rehabilitation for nine months before being released in July.

The following month, Mr Stephens started work with the BTP, collecting turtles to be measured and tagged as part of an international effort to study the animals.

“On the official first day of the BTP, we jumped straight into catching turtles and preparing data samples which would then be sent off and be studied,” he said.

“Imagine having to dive down 15ft, in visibility around the same range, around a 1,405-ft net circling a large area looking for turtles that get captured.

“It was definitely one of the more interesting tasks that I have ever had to perform.”

Mr Stephens said the BTP is an “enthralling course”, urging anyone interested to apply.

“The BTP is dedicated to those who want to learn more about the history of the turtles around Bermuda,” he said.

“It also increases your mental awareness of everything around you and allows you and those working around you to create a well-built community of turtle enthusiasts.”