After unloading our dive kit from the boat and hauling it up the flight of fifty or so stairs to Des’s house we chucked it into the pool to rinse it off. I was carrying Simon’s BCD and he was carrying mine.
“Oh my god, what?” He said and laughed loudly behind me.
“What?” I asked, curious but not curious enough to stop and face him. I was only a few steps away from the top and I could see the bright artificial blueness of the pool calling to me.
“You came up from the dive with one hundred and ten bar?” He asked, meaning that I used less than half a tank of air on the dive.
“Yeah I don’t really breathe underwater,” I said and gently eased the BCD off of my shoulders and onto the floor.
“What even are you man, I came up with twenty bar and I surfaced before you,” he said and we placed the dive gear into the water before jumping in as well. I shrugged,
“Maybe I’m secretly a fish,” I said
“Probably,” he replied with a chuckle.
Cameron and Des came and joined us in the water a few minutes later, heaving their own kit into the water and then splashing in after it.
“So Simon,” Des said, “How are things at the aquarium?” Simon was our undercover conservationist in the aquarium, getting us information that we could use to have them shut down for malpractice. He gave a weak laugh and shook his head.
“It’s not so good,” he said and turned to me, “Have you heard about the turtle rehabilitation programme?” I nodded.
“But only from the website,” I said, “Which claims to be doing a whole world of good,” When Cam and I were researching the aquarium we had stumbled across the rehabilitation programme which claimed to be saving turtles left, right and centre.
“The boss did a survey and found that turtle rehabilitation was the cheapest conservation propaganda to put into our working system. Turtles don’t need a separate tank, because they’re big enough not to be eaten by the sharks in the tank. Also the turtles are omnivorous and won’t mind being in a tank with predators.”
“And people love turtles don’t they,” I add “Whereas people don’t really love sharks the same way,”
“Exactly.” Simon said, “So they wanted to set up a rehabilitation hospital, a clinic, for turtles because turtles aren’t really fished anymore so you often get one as by-catch. They can rescue these turtles and keep them in tanks for as long as they want, posting videos about how good they are at conservation.”
“Wait so they just take the ones that are by-catch and pretend to rehabilitate them?” I asked.
“Well we’re not in a position to judge how well he has rehabilitated the turtle. It’s his disclosure. The turtle comes in and he may say it had an injury, needed plastic removal or an operation but unless you work there you won’t know if that’s true. If you work there you can see that they don’t have the facilities to rehabilitate this turtle. They don’t have a lab or a hospital. They have a little corner room where they do some tests of the water quality,”
“That’s it?” I ask
“That’s it. The staff don’t have the skills to perform a surgery on a turtle, because there is no school in Kenya that can train you to do it. So where did you pick it up? No university in Kenya has the facilities to teach you how to rehabilitate marine life so where did you get these skills? Are you self taught? And is that good enough? The other rehabilitation centre in Watamu have the local dog vet who, over time, has learned how to rehabilitate turtles. And for them that’s good enough,”
“What?” I ask, astonished. “A dog vet?”
“Yeah. He’s not even a marine biologist. He’s just taught himself how to do certain procedures like removing a hook caught in a fin and then sewing it up or performing a cavity opening on the turtle’s stomach to remove some plastic debris. But if you only keep the turtle for long enough to do the procedure and get the publicity for it, then you release it and it dies – who will know? The turtles are far-moving so it will be enough of a distance that no one will know where it came from. They don’t take photo IDs so you can’t recognise it if you do find it.”
It sounded awful. Experimental surgery on turtles and then just releasing them back into the wild, knowing that if they died no one would be able to point the finger back at you.
“Do they take the turtle back to where it was found?” Des asked and Simon laughed,
“No they take it to the nearest beach to them to cut down the fuel cost. They think that it will know where it’s going – it’s a turtle. It doesn’t matter to them that it’s been in captivity, eating lettuce for a month. They don’t do anything to prepare it for the wild again, they just let it go.”
“How do they declare a turtle well enough to go back into the water?” I asked, “Presumably that’s all guess work as well,”
“Well I know they still have one in there because they have it on record with the local wildlife authority that this one had cancer when it came in. They excised the tumour that was growing on it, wherever it was growing, so they have the evidence to show that it came in sick and now it doesn’t look as sick. They’ll keep it longer for monitoring but, do you see, that turtle is now the mascot. It’s just holding space in the pond until they get a new one and then this one can go,”
“Jeepers,” I said, rubbing my hands over my face. “They just don’t care do they,”
It’s not a question.
“No they don’t. Some fish in the tanks just refuse to eat and starve themselves until they consume their own livers and die. That happens with a lot of the sharks. If they refuse to eat or competitively cannot get enough food they will die. Some of the sharks are too aggressive to feed them with, what do you call it, like a pick-stick. You know the ones you use to clean up the beach or to clean up a park?” I nodded.
“Well the black tips are so aggressive that at feeding time you cannot mouth feed each shark because they create so much commotion in the tank. You just have to chuck the food in and then it’s survival of the fittest. The runt of the pack is slowly going to starve.” I shuddered at the thought of it. I could so clearly imagine the thrashing fins of young black tips frothing up the water, making it impossible to see who got what. The smaller sharks stuck outside the fray, slowly starving to death. Simon continues,
“And the fish can’t talk. The fish can’t say ‘Oh I’m hungry’ or ‘ I haven’t got enough to eat’ so they just starve. You can even see their chest cavity depress so you can see its ribs through its skin. It’s a skinny fish so then it won’t get sold because any imperfection means the fish is worthless,”
It was a staggering thought. The tip of a fin gone and the fish was doomed.
“And then, of course, at any given time a system might be over-polluted, or might just fail and then everything in that system dies. So what do you do? You dig a pit in the back of the compound and bury everything. It doesn’t get recorded as sold so according to the government you’re still under quarter.”
“Wait what? They can get away with killing all these fish?” I asked, incredulous.
“If it’s not sold, its not on the books.” Simon leaned forwards and stared down into the dregs of his coffee mug,
“In the aquarium the only way out is death or sale,”
- Writing the new volunteer guide
- Vipingo Ridge for supper
- Scuba Diving
- Reading and relaxing at the beach bar
- Scuba Diving
- Reading and relaxing at the beach bar
- Marketing meeting
- Writing a newsletter
- Writing volunteer guide
- Taekwondo lesson
- Drinks and dinner with Des