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Eagle Scout Dives with Turtles in the Galapagos Islands

Did you know Eagle Scouts traveled to every corner of the world this summer to explore some of the most interesting spots for scientific study? Swimming with sharks, examining narwhals, hanging with monkeys – it’s all in a day’s work for the National Eagle Scout Association’s (NESA) World Explorers.

NESA selected Eagle Scout Colby Schindel to head to the Galapagos Science Center to track and tag turtles. He recounts how his unbelievable summer began:

galapagos“‘Get your dive gear. We’re going out to catch sea turtles.’ This was the first directive I heard on my first day at the Galapagos Science Center on the Island of San Cristobal, the very island where Darwin conducted much of his research for ‘The Origin of the Species.’ Within an hour, I was assigned to a team and in a boat headed to the surrounding bays. In the water, we would spot a sea turtle, grab it from behind by its carapace, and ride it to the surface where the entire team would work to hoist it into the boat for tagging.

“The mechanics of tagging are not always easy. The turtles weigh between 60 and 200 pounds, use their fins as a defense, and by the way, have teeth like hacksaws. We used two different techniques for tagging: smaller turtles were tagged on a fin; larger, yellow-green and black-green males were tagged with satellite transmitters after drilling through the carapace.

“The turtle tagging project is an ongoing effort to track the behavior, migratory patterns, and condition of the sea turtle population. Each turtle is photographed, examined, weighed, measured, and tagged. Sometimes, we would find a turtle already tagged, update our information, and compare it in the data bank. The project has far-reaching implications, not only for the protection and conservation of the species, but it will contribute critical information to other fields of study including biodiversity and climate change. One ancillary outcome already being investigated is to recommend restrictions on boat paths and wake speeds in highly populated areas.”

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Schindel spent his days completing the fieldwork of a lifetime. Submerged in an aquamarine abyss, the Eagle Scout was surrounded by creatures few of us will spot.

Here’s how he chronicled the experience:

“As a diver, I welcomed being in the water nearly everyday. The Galapagos offers diving like nowhere else I’ve been. Many of the island species are both terrestrial and aquatic. Seal lions, blue and red- footed boobies, marine iguanas, pelicans, and penguins swim right along with humans. And, the number of sharks, rays, and turtles is incredible. Even though situated on the equator, the water remains cold from the effects of the Arctic currents.”

Another uncommon sight for your average land-farer: a seal sprawled across a park bench. But Schindel stumbled across one and snapped the picture below.Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.28.21 AM

He explained:

“The respect given to the animals in the Galapagos is unique. Everywhere on the islands there is evidence of efforts to protect the natural ecosystem and the various species.

“The towns and parks are full of people and animals coexisting. Beachgoers and swimmers share the sand and water with the local fauna.”

The magnitude of this opportunity was not lost on this Eagle. He shared:

“Combining my academic program, my diving skills, my Scouting history, and my love of adventure with a field study was an extraordinary opportunity …

“My sincerest appreciation and gratitude go to the National Eagle Scout Association and the Galapagos Science Center for allowing this Eagle to soar.”

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For more information on the NESA World Explorers program, read about how applicants were selected on Scouting Wire and revisit another explorer’s trek to the the Amazon.

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This blog is managed and written by staff of the Communications Department of the Boy Scouts of America.