Behind the Lens: Surrounded by Sea Turtles in Barbados Blue

The best wildlife encounters are those that occur organically—completely by chance, when one’s senses are relaxed and one’s curiosity is heightened. Whether coming eye-to-eye with a Wandering Albatross while nestled in tall tussock grass on Prion Island, swimming with inquisitive dolphins in the rich waters of the Galapagos Islands, or walking in tandem with a chinstrap penguin on Half Moon Island, there’s an opportunity to engage with nature in every corner of the globe. It was in a secluded spot just off the west coast of Barbados that photographer Lucia Griggi happened upon a bale of Mother Nature’s most curious swimmers.

Encircling Green Sea Turtles

“I was absolutely blown away,” Griggi begins. “I’ve never had a wildlife experience in which I’ve been surrounded by such unique and beautiful creatures. As soon as I jumped in the warm waters they surrounded me—there were four, five, or even six of them at times,” she continues. Lucia is referring to Barbados’ green sea turtles, which, she claims, embody the island’s distinctive soul with their ‘tranquil, friendly, [and] enchanting’ personalities.

A diver explores a wreck in Barbados
A diver swims through a school of fish to explore a wreck off the coasts of Barbados/Lucia Griggi

Ever the opportunist, Griggi quickly grabbed her camera and set about filming, documenting her moment in the Caribbean shallows. She was amazed at how easy the turtles made her work. They approached her out of curiosity and remained long enough for the photographer to learn their behaviors, building on knowledge gained with turtles in the Galapagos. Green sea turtles can live for up to 80 years or more, growing up to five feet in length.

“There in the shallow waters just off the coastline, the beautiful green sea turtles swam peacefully, unthreatened by my presence. They were approaching my lens, seeming to glide through the water around me, as if flying in the air. It was all so easy; I didn’t have to work for the shots. As a wildlife photographer, and as a passionate traveler, these are the moments you cherish. I previously swam with turtles in the Galapagos but it was different there: the turtles’ carapaces were covered in algae and the animals were not so comfortable around humans. In Barbados, the marine animals were smaller and looked cleaner.”

Green sea turtle in Barbados
A green sea turtle spreads its flippers as Lucia photographs in Barbados/Lucia Griggi

An Affinity with the Water

“I started swimming at a very young age and have developed a strong affinity with the water. One of my greatest passions is surfing and so underwater photography is, perhaps, my specialty. I’ve learned to relax when submerged; to immerse myself entirely in the aquatic environment. I held my breath for as long as I could, swimming underwater with my new friends. I tried to remain as still as possible, vertical in the water. I didn’t want to kick my fins in fear of panicking them, but they were entirely undeterred. I feel like the green sea turtles could sense my tranquility as they circled me. Remaining still enabled me to focus my camera on the real protagonists of the moment.”

“Filming cinematically, I opted for a large aperture of 2.8 with a defined focal point. Because they were coming so close to me, this also posed challenges; I needed to keep the turtles in focus, but their continuous movement made this difficult. As I filmed, a large school of sergeant major fish also took interest in me, which added to my experience and the quality of the film.”

Sergeant major fish in Barbados
A school of Sergeant Major fish swim by a reef in Barbados/Lucia Griggi

7,000 Photos in Just Two Hours

“The conditions in Barbados were perfect for underwater photography: I was in warm water, not too far from the shore; there were no currents and the water was transparent. Using my Canon 5D Mark IV with a Canon 16mm-35mm f2.8 lens, set in a domed AquaTech water housing, I snapped around 7,000 photos in just two hours. I stayed with the turtles for as long as they wanted me to. Our encounter came to an end when they slowly swam off into the depths. This special moment was gifted to me by some of nature’s most captivating sea creatures. This rare interaction is one that I won’t quickly forget.”

Swimmers with a green sea turtle in Barbados
Swimmers enjoy the company of a green sea turtle in Barbados/Lucia Griggi