I discovered this ultimate turtle encounter quite by accident. While on a recent trip to Bora Bora in French Polynesia, I received an invitation from Le Meridien to tour its turtle sanctuary. Almost as an afterthought I brought my underwater housing -- just in case. Good thing I did, because what I found when I arrived was a large clear-water lagoon filled with 45 friendly green and hawksbill turtles up to 5 years of age.
This site was launched when a local divemaster brought in an injured turtle for rehab. It has since become French Polynesia's only turtle sanctuary, and the resort even has a full-time marine biologist on staff. Once the turtles reach 5 years of age, they're released into the wild. That's a small measure in a big ocean, but for a society whose culture reveres turtles, it's a great step. There's even a story about a small turtle brought to the sanctuary by a local fisherman that he'd found, he said, still alive, in the belly of a mahi-mahi he'd just caught. True or not, it's a great story.
But enough of the enviro-speak -- this snorkel rocks.
As soon as I slipped into the water, several of the older turtles came over to inspect me. That guests (and the only caveat here is that you must be a guest of Le Meridien to enjoy the encounter) are allowed to freely enjoy the company of sea turtles in a natural environment, anytime they like (heck, there's a bungalow right over the lagoon), is akin to being given a free pass to jump the fence at SeaWorld. Three hours later and I still hadn't had enough time with these fascinating animals, especially since chance encounters in the wild are generally less intimate and less frequent. I still get a fat-kid-in-a-candy-shop grin when I think about the Le Meridien turtle encounter. If you're headed to Tahiti and Bora Bora, the Le Meridien resort certainly has all the romantic-escape qualities for which this island is renowned. But more importantly it has one of the world's most intriguing places for endless one-on-one encounters with sea turtles.