Spa Day




Location: Hawaii


Perhaps 3 decades in the making, it was my childhood dream to one day find the fabled green sea turtle cleaning station where the yellow tangs picked algae off their backs. My several past trips to Hawaii proved unsuccessful, and it seemed everyone I asked thought I was crazy, and that that behavior didn’t exist. I remembered seeing it as a kid, either in some magazine like Ranger Rick, or perhaps some documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough, but as the years rolled on, I started to wonder if I had indeed dreamed it up.
In the months prior to my most recent Hawaii shoot, I started the research. I found a few old-timey film photos, but no amount of googling turned up a location. I could tell from the coral and the background environment in those photos that it was in Hawaii, but that’s as close as I could get. So I asked at local dive shops, and the local divers I met – no one seemed to know. So…. time to go about it the hard way! Suzanne & I just jumped in at practically every access point all up & down the coast, snorkeling or diving to look for an environment that we felt was conducive to this behavior. I could blab about the arduous search for several paragraphs, but obviously, we found it in the end; or should I say the beginning…
What we witnessed on that exploratory snorkel seemed a distant memory, as day upon day of sitting in the same spot proved fruitless. There were turtles. There were yellow tangs. But they simply refused to get together for the magic I craved! With frustration building, the days passed, but you simply can’t rush nature. On my last available day, on what was perhaps my 8th scuba tank in the exact same spot, two of the turtles must have been feeling particularly dirty, as they slowly glided into position right before me, and right on cue, the first yellow tang arrived…followed by 8 more! Freaking out in my mind, but calm and methodical in my movements & breathing, I made a few slow approaches, being careful to not spook either the turtle or the fish, and composed my shots. Within minutes, it was all over, as the turtles went up for a breath, then swam off into the deep. So much work for one brief moment, but for me, it was a childhood dream come true, as well as vindication to the skeptics who said that two creatures so different couldn’t possibly share in this behavior. Only you, me, some full-bellied yellow tangs, and some clean turtles know the real secret…