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This is a tale of turtles, bluebottles and open-water swimmers, of which the latter are the rarest breed.
Come hell or high water, they want to immerse themselves in the ocean and swim. Yes, sometimes even when that high water is hell to swim in, due to the wind direction and strength.
Here in Nelson Mandela Bay we get a powerful onshore that we call the “black easterly” or “beasterly easterly” , and for good reason.
Not only does an east wind churn up the water and make it choppy and unpleasant to swim in, it also brings swarms of sea creatures called bluebottles.
Although they lurk in the water all the time, bluebottles only drift close to shore when there is a strong east wind.
Then, they litter the beach like blue jewels.
The boy in the photograph above, taken by one of the swimmers, is holding one, very carefully. The other photo shows the box that his family gathered.
You can spot them by their shimmering float, not much bigger than your thumb, and a long thread-like tail made up of smaller units called zooids.
Don’t be deceived by the bluebottle’s translucent beauty, however, because its tentacles can give you a nasty sting.
If you swim into one by accident, they will wrap themselves around your limbs and leave whip-like red welts on your skin.
Which is exactly what happened to my swimming buddies.
Come bluebottles or easterly chop, these Rambos of the rough water will dive right in – and several were stung.
At the same time, however, it was a chance to “harvest” these little stingers to feed a few other sea creatures at Bayworld, a research and education centre in our city. Bayworld runs programmes that focus on marine life, reptiles, maritime and local history.
This includes stranded or baby turtles, such as the loggerhead and green turtles in the pictures below.
More than one cannot be rehabilitated back into the ocean as they will not be able survive there. This loggerhead turtle, for example, and the moss covered one below have both lost a flipper.
Then there are the baby turtles which wash up in storms, and which Bayworld feeds up and tries to return.
This lil’ critter, however, washed up a second time. See the fingers at the side of the photo give you an idea of its size, it’s also a loggerhead turtle but about 1/10th the size of the one shown above it.
For some reason, bluebottles are like chocolate for turtles - and Faith, the green turtle in the video clip, is a total chocaholic. The staff at Bayworld says she is an incredibly picky eater but loves bluebottles.
So, when Bayworld put out a call for bluebottles for this fussy patient, the open-water swimming community rallied round.
The staff in charge of the turtles were delighted, and they even managed to freeze some of the donations to keep for later use.
Seems like one swimmer’s poison is another swimmer’s treat.