BBC producer Hugh Pearson describes filming the traumatic journey of baby turtles as they hatch and make their way to the sea on the remote Comoros islands.
Baby green turtles face overwhelming odds as they try to get to the sea past the many predators that patrol their nesting beaches. As a result, fewer than one in 500 turtles survive to adulthood.
I was desperate to capture the drama of their struggle. But to get the immersive shots we needed, we had to get the camera right down to the level of the tiny turtles.
I wanted the camera to keep moving with the babies, from the moment they emerged from their nest, through dodging predators on the beach to seeing the survivors swim off to the safety of the open ocean.
Green turtle hatchlings embark on an uphill struggle to reach the open ocean in the Comoros. © BBC NHU
To achieve this we needed a beach with lots of nesting turtles. And at one very special village, Itsamia, on the remote Comoros off the coast of Mozambique, we found a healthy – and increasing – turtle population.
During our three-week shoot, the crew immersed themselves in the turtles’ world and grew to appreciate the tenacity of the hatchlings as they dashed down the beach, avoiding marauding crows and ghost crabs. Only a few made it to the sea.
Those that did reach the water were tossed around in the surf. Then, most heartbreaking of all, some were plucked from the surface by predatory kites.
A cameraman follows a lucky, green turtle hatchling as it heads out to sea. © Katharina Brown/BBC
Trouble in paradise
The turtles need all the help they can get, which is what makes the situation at Itsamia so heartening.
Until about 20 years ago, the turtles here were killed for meat and, as a result, the population was declining. Then the local people decided that they wanted to protect the turtles, going to great lengths and risking personal danger in order to do so.
Their conservation work has had dramatic results: in the past decade the turtle population has doubled. Today, more than a million turtles hatch on Itsamia’s beaches every year.