Tommy Turtle In Troubled Waters

Many people believe art is, or should be, simply a reflection of life, but that thought is turned turtle by a quote from Jean-Luc Godard the French-Swiss film director, screenwriter and film critic. He rose to prominence as a pioneer of the nineteen sixties French New Wave film movement, and is arguably the most influential French filmmaker of the post-war era. He has said ´Art is not a reflection of reality. It is the reality of a reflection.´
That seems to me to be so ambiguous as to become unclear, which is surely not the point of any reflection heading in whichever direction. All this, though, shouldn´t worry you. It is simply an overblown philosophical debate about a very minor incident that took place the other day on the town centre shoreline of Playa Blanca.

The marine life found in the Canary Islands is interesting, being a combination of North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and endemic species. In recent years, the increasing popularity of both scuba diving and underwater photography have provided biologists with much new knowledge of Fish species found in the islands. These include many species of shark, ray, moray eel, bream, jack, grunt, scorpionfish, triggertfish, grouper, goby, and blenny.

Any readers of my generation who ever wanted to be guided by Ringo on his Yellow Submarine might already know that there is just such a service waiting to resume business as soon as the tourists come back to Puerto Callero. The vessel takes trips out of the harbour and dives underwater out in the ocean, where you might just see an Octopus’s Garden also made famous by The Beatles, and written and sung by Ringo Starr (credited to his real name Richard Starkey), from their 1969 album Abbey Road.

Those who look closely among the many invertebrate species wandering through the garden will note that there are not only octopus, but also cuttlefish, sponge, jellyfish, anemone, crab. mollusc, sea urchin, starfish, sea cucumber and coral. In the waters around The Canary Islands there is also a total of five species of marine turtle sighted periodically from land.

The most common of these is The Loggerhead Turtle, but there is also Kemp´s Ridley Turtle as well as the Green, Hawksbill, or Leatherback, although there is no real evidence that any of them breed in the islands, and those seen in our waters are assumed to be on migratory travels. However some biologists argue that the several sightings reported on Fuerteventura suggests marine turtles may have bred here in the past.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle, also known as the lute turtle or the leathery turtle, is the largest sea turtle and the most migratory. It swims around the globe, crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and travelling as far north as Alaska and Norway and as far south as the most southern point of New Zealand, South America and South Africa.

One female Leatherback Turtle has been recorded with satellite technology to have travelled 12,000 miles (19,000 km) from Indonesia to Oregon.

The Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), is a species of oceanic turtle distributed throughout the world. It is a marine reptile, belonging to the family Cheloniidae. The average loggerhead measures around 90 cm (35 in) in carapace length when fully grown. The adult loggerhead sea turtle weighs approximately 135 kg (298 lb), with the largest specimens weighing in at more than 450 kg (1,000 lb). The skin ranges from yellow to brown in color, and the shell is typically reddish brown.

This brings us to Tommy Turtle The Tourist seen on the shoreline of Playa Blanca on Saturday 13th March. Tommy, who is definitely a member of the Leatherbacks or Loggerheads, found himself in the soup when he attracted the attentions of scores of beachcombers, four Guardia Civil, and two Policia Local. This mini-drama of real life soon turned into a work of art that recalled films like Looking For Nemo, various Keystone Kops adventures and Chaplin-esque policemen twirling their batons and saying in gruff Spanish, ´Move along folks, there´s nothing to see here. Move along.´

My wife Dee and I were taking a romantic stroll along the town centre sea walk, though not so romantic that we were anywhere near breaching social distancing protocol, and were just approaching our current favourite restaurant Brisa Del Mar (friendly staff, great tapas and main dishes, cold beer and a hundred and eighty degree sea vista) when we noticed a group of half a dozen teenage lads looking over the wall down on to the rocks below, still being lapped by the high tide.

In some areas of North West England where we used to live those half dozen lads might have constituted a gang, but we have no such fears, over here, so we stood close to them, trying to seem uninterested but in fact following their pointing fingers as they showed each other whatever it was they had seen. We didn´t see him at first, so incredible was his camouflage, but there just above the tide line on the dry side, lay Tommy Turtle. He might have been left stranded on the rocks by the slowly receding tide or, to my wife´s fanciful imagination, was obviously here trying to trace his ancestors, at least in the form of wooden artefacts, that sell so well in the Mystic arts and crafts store. Tommy Turtle was, after all, effectively just outside their open front door and looking as if he knew there were dozens of exquisitely carved replicas of grandma and grandpa on sale inside. Perhaps Tommy Turtle The Tourist had heard about the on-going closing down sale being held at this wonderfully arty venue and was hoping he could buy the release of a coach load of his wooden ancestors and take them away to the octopus´s garden ´neath the waves.

Tommy Turtle The Tourist, though, seemed somehow inert, looking beached, bothered and bewildered and the teenage lads were becoming increasingly concerned, in Spanish. Although we didn’t understand the vocabulary we could tell by the urgency of the tones that five of them were urging the sixth to take off his shoes, climb down the steps and then stroll confidently towards Tommy, Bear Grylls like, over treacherously sea-weeded rocks, knowing that any kind of slip on Lanzarote leaves you with no soft place to fall.
To increasing and enthusiastic applause from his amigos the lad slithered and slid but never fell in a tortuous ten minute journey that led him to where Tommy Turtle still seemed,…well, still, .. really. Really, really still. These creatures swim with the tide and the tide had just turned back out again, without him, and Tommy looked to be one very tuckered-out turtle. It was looking ominous but, to the whooping and hollering of the five lads sitting safely on dry land, the young man reached the creature. By now a crowd of maybe thirty people had gathered around us, drawn, as we all are when we see a lone figure gazing up to the sky or five lads gazing down at the ground, to follow the gaze.

Perhaps our fellow on-lookers felt, as we did, that his seemed a scene of almost Indiana Jones-like derring do, as the young man braved the tide and reached Tommy Turtle. We all held our breath as in best cinematic fashion, this teenage Indiana knelt down and tenderly gathered Tommy Turtle in his arms to carry him further out towards the water and safety and surely we all heard the symphonic soundtrack, heroic and soaring, as the lad tip toed in agonising slow motion out to the water´s edge. There was a lump in every throat as he then lowered Tommy into the waves we all hoped would carry him safely home.

There wasn´t a dry eye in the place as we all held our breath watching Tommy flap and swim and duck and dive until, into deeper water, he slid below the surface and seemed to head home. Cue wild applause from the crowd on the sea walk, who had been entertained throughout by a waiter from Brisa Del Mar who had given a mock (turtle) commentary throughout the proceedings.

Satisfied that all was well, the crowd all set off to wherever they had been heading before they had felt compelled to stop because a man was staring at something. The six teenagers headed away, five of them slapping the hero on his back and we headed twenty yards further on into the restaurant.

We asked our waiter (he of the commentary skills) whether the event we had just witnessed was a regular occurrence and he said that in all his life on the island he had never seen a turtle on the shores of Lanzarote so, happy we had seen something of significance we began to peruse the menu. Within a few minutes, though there was a growing chorus of oohing and aahing, and people were stopping right outside the restaurant and pointing down on to the rocks below.

This was obviously the film sequel: The Return Of Tommy Turtle The Tourist.

Our waiter stepped outside to reprise his role of David Attenborough for a crowd that had swelled suddenly to fifty or sixty. These included young mums and dads delightedly pointing out the turtle to their young children, albeit that he was so well camouflaged as to be not much more than a blur.

Youngsters leapt off their skateboards and scooters to have a look, bikes and prams were leaned haphazardly against the wall and folk were leaning over at acute angles for a better view. Some people were taking photographs of Tommy Turtle The Tourist and some people, who could not get close enough to do so, settled for taking photographs of the people taking photographs. Babies were crying and dogs were barking excitedly but our commentating waiter carried on regardless, and the crowd was drawing quite a crowd.

One woman, with two tiny but incredibly noisy dogs, seemed quite concerned by Tommy´s plight but there was no sign now of the fearless teenagers of twenty minutes earlier. Who knows, these days, whether people are taking photographs or making phone calls, but whether by coincidence or communication uniformed officers appeared out of nowhere. They seemed slightly unsure of what all the fuss was about , and stood on the wall with the rest of the crowd wondering what Tommy was up to. Eventually, though, they noticed that social distancing had gone to pot, and began to urge the crowd to disperse and go about their business, but this actually showed the difficulties of crowd control. This was only a small crowd, not much more than a queue really, but so entranced were they by Tommy that they were reluctant to leave and it was only when those in the green uniforms and the blue uniforms began to put their hands to their hips, puff out their chests and snap out stentorian orders did the crowd begin to drift away.

It seemed unclear whether Tommy was in any danger of being stranded, or even whether he was injured in any way, but as it has done for more than year now covid. and the fear of it. dictated how the incident would end,….with no witnesses.

We were quietly contemplative, throughout the rest of our meal, over the real magnitude of what seemed such a minor incident. What, if anything did all this say about climate change and migratory patterns of sea creatures, how well did it speak of our teenage population, what comments did it make of crowd regulation, and respect for authority, and how many of that crowd so concerned with Tommy´s welfare might still order the Turtle Soup the next time they dine out.

The various law officers, satisfied covid regulations were no longer being ignored, moved away seemingly not concerned about what the eventual fate of Tommy might have been.

So perhaps the biggest question posed by the incident was about Man’s right or responsibility to intervene in the lives of other species.

I wish I could tell you what eventually happened to Tommy Turtle, or even what kind of Turtle Tommy is. By the mottled posts on his shell we later identified him from a google search as most likely being a Loggerhead or a Leatherback.

What we had really witnessed, I guess, was one of those moments that Godard called ´the reflection of a reality´, a moment when nothing and everything happens as one and only becomes more dramatic or comical with every telling.

On Lanzarote nothing and everything occur simultaneously all of the time. In a clear blue sky a hawk hovers looking keenly for food, seagulls move homes because the human travellers who once threw them scraps have gone home because of covid, egrets flash white in clouds currently empty of hang-gliders and aeroplanes and turtles swim in seas seemingly almost empty of boats.

And yet the island has so much to offer at the moment. Maybe Tommy Turtle The Tourist had read Miguel´s newsletters all about the wonderful wildflowers of abstract landscapes in our fields.

Maybe Tommy Turtle had been here as a tourist-spotter and maybe he went back to wherever home is on a Fred Olsen Ferry. There´s plenty of space on the ferries for passengers these days. But we are back as low as level two and hope of freedom, for tourists and turtles, is high.