This beautiful clip comes to us from I Am Water Foundation freediver (and longtime friend of Earth Touch) Beth Neale. While out with Mokkaran Dive Charters off the coast of Maputaland, South Africa, Neale spotted something big in the water. 

When the animal's carapace broke the surface, the team initially thought it was the back of a humpback whale calf. "We'd just seen humpbacks swimming past," Neale recalls. "It wasn’t until my freediving buddy, Andy Coetzee, said, 'It’s a leatherback turtle!' that I realised we could get in the water with her."

After a quick scramble, Neale entered the water and slowly approached the supersized reptile (who, at an estimated 550 kilograms, or over 1,000 pounds, was likely still growing). "She was as big as me (without my long fins, of course!). I was so excited, I hardly took a big breath and dove down with her. She was extremely relaxed and didn’t seem to mind me being next to her, but I made sure not to get too close because I didn’t want her to feel threatened," explains Neale. 


These huge reptiles spend most of their lives in the open ocean, but each year an estimated 100 of them travel inshore to lay their eggs. Because of this, it was extremely important to Neale to avoid disturbing the turtle's behaviour. 

"Even though she was just cruising and looking at me, I had to fin hard to keep up," she says. "Leatherback turtles are considered one of the fastest reptiles and she could have swam away very quickly, so I was extremely fortunate that she decided to stick around for a bit. Before I knew it, I must have been about 15 metres down with her."


Well trained as she is, Neale's diving capabilities were no match for the turtle's underwater prowess. For a start, the animals can remain submerged for 30 minutes on a single breath! Before long, Neale had to say her goodbyes and head for the surface. 

"I stopped swimming [for a moment] and just watched her. She turned and then within a few seconds and flaps of her fins, she swam down into the blue and disappeared. It was truly a life-changing and extremely memorable moment. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity too ... but I really hope not!"