There’s something truly magical about spotting a sea turtle in the wild. They have a peaceful, graceful, ancient wisdom about them that captivates you and, in that moment, you kinda forget they have the ability to become pretty awesome ninja warriors when trained by a rat Sensei in his sewer Dojo. While not all turtles can grow up to become teenage mutant ninjas, 1 in 1000 will grow up to reach breeding maturity and form a key part of the turtle circle of life. Given the fact they don’t have any ninja training, most turtles lose their lives in ways that are avoidable. They are often caught in fishing nets and drown or, mistaking them for their favourite jellyfish snack, eat plastic bags and perish.
Turtle numbers have been in decline for quite some time, with humans creating a large number of the life-threatening hazards they’re up against in their fight for survival. So, aside from being a massive mood-killer, what does all this bad news mean? It means it’s time to get educated! When we know better, we do better. So, the best thing we can do is get up close with turtles to gain a better understanding, appreciation, and respect for them while learning about their needs and what we can do to be better co-inhabitants of Earth. #Namaste. Here are 3 of the best ways you can have a truly unforgettable, life-changing turtle encounter.
Swim with turtles at Lady Elliot Island
You’ll find the stunning Lady Elliot Island at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. A highly protected ‘Green Zone,’ the Island offers up a safe-haven for over 1,200 species of marine life, including turtles of all shapes and sizes. The Island is 80km north-east of Bundaberg, between Fraser Island and Lady Musgrave Island. Getting there is awesome! The Island has its own airstrip, so you get the chance to take an unforgettable scenic flight from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane or the Gold Coast. You can either do a day trip to the Island or stay at the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort (recommend!)
Once you’re there, it’s time to get turtle-tastic! Spend countless hours snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef with the turtles, spotting them gracefully gliding through the water and having the chance to swim right alongside with them. Honestly, it’s a magical moment that really stays with you. You can also take a glass-bottom boat ride and spot turtles at cleaning stations, searching deeper spots for a tasty bite. At low tide, take a reef walk and learn all about the precious eco-system of the Great Barrier Reef.
I loved my day trip to Lady Elliot Island. The water and reef here are absolutely, freaking stunning! I could not get enough time in the water, it was just so incredible to be able to swim so closely with the turtles and see them gliding along so peacefully. I kept squealing with happiness into my snorkel. It was really weird. The staff working there are so knowledgeable, I learned a lot about the turtles and felt empowered to make changes to do better to help them. 10/10 Would turtle again.
Watch turtles nesting and hatching at Mon Repos
For a once-in-a-lifetime turtle experience, you cannot go past seeing mama turtles nesting and hatchlings erupting from the sand at Mon Repos. You’ll find this turtle sanctuary at Mon Repos, a short 20-minute drive from the heart of Bundaberg. It’s here you can book a Ranger-lead turtle experience. The small entrance fee goes back into habitat management for the conservation and protection of turtles.
The experience is, honestly, incredible! You visit in the evening, from about 6:5o – 7 pm onwards. After having your booking confirmed, you’re placed into a group (1 through 5, depending on when you booked). You then wait in the auditorium, where one of the Rangers talks you through the guidelines of visiting, then shows you some very cool videos about the turtles, their life cycles, threats to them, what we can do to help and what the rangers are doing to help. It’s pretty astounding stuff.
Then, when a lady turtle comes ashore to lay or a clutch of hatchlings begin to erupt, your group is called and you head down to the beach. It’s very dark, which is essential because the turtles use the light to guide them while they lay then return to the water. When seeing a nesting turtle, you’ll get the chance to sit close by the majestic mama while she lays her 100+ eggs then covers them back up, painstakingly. With some loggerheads easily weighing 100kg, it’s no easy feat. If the lovely gal has laid in a less-than-ideal spot, the rangers will dig up her eggs and relocate them, to give them a better chance of survival.
When seeing hatchlings, you’ll get to see hundreds of adorable little turtle babes busting out from under the sand, climbing over one another like a little turtle ladder. Creating a light tunnel with torches, you’ll help guide each little dude and dudette down to the water and off to start their BIG adventure. If they are lucky enough to be the 1 in 1000 to reach breeding maturity (around 30 – 40 years of age) they’ll come back to the same spot they hatched, to repeat the cycle. It’s incredible!
Snorkel with turtles at Lady Musgrave Island
Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef is on a lot of people’s bucket lists and one great place to do just that is by joining a day trip out to Lady Musgrave Island. We did just this, with the guys at Lady Musgrave Experience, and loved it! Now, you guys, this was my second time doing this trip, but with two different companies. I won’t bag anyone out, but I will say I really loved doing it with Lady Musgrave Experience. The crew were awesome, the boat was gorgeous and we just had a great time!
It takes about 2 1/2 hours to get out to Lady Musgrave Island from the Port of Bundaberg. If you get seasick (me) you’ll need to take a few seasickness tablets before you climb aboard. I then recommend laying down for a nice, long, 2 1/2 hour nap! When you arrive, you’re whisked over to Lady Musgrave Island on a glass bottom boat, for a walking tour of the island. One of the knowledgeable crew will share a wealth of information about the island and its eco-system. Not only that, it’s damn paradise on there!
Once done, you head back to the boat and grab lunch before heading out for a snorkel. If you’re a die-hard snorkeller like me, you’ll want to skip lunch and hit the water ASAP! Take off to the turtle cleaning station and scope out the rad little dudes getting their whole body cleaned by friendly fish. Float over the reef, swimming right next to beautiful Green turtles and spot loggerheads too! This part of the reef is picture-perfect and a great option for those who don’t want to fly out to a spot like Lady Elliot Island. It also makes for a super easy day trip. Perfecto!
What can we do to help turtles?
If all this turtle talk has you feeling some kind of way, here are a few things you can do to make life for the turtles better:
- If you live near the beach or are visiting an area where turtles are known to nest and hatch, turn off lights. Turtles use the moon to help them find their way, so there’s a chance your lights could lead hatchlings away from the water and up into our world, which is not a good place for them to be. Minimise light pollution where possible so they can follow the moon’s light down to the water.
- It’s important to be aware of nesting turtles as well as hatchlings. If you see a nesting turtle, don’t approach her as you may scare her off back to the water, interrupting her laying her eggs. Similarly, keep an eye out for hatchlings and steer clear of them, giving them every chance to make their journey to the water.
- If you do spot a nesting turtle, be sure to call a ranger and let them know, so they can scope out the nesting site and make sure it’s safe from predators and beach-goers.
- Minimise the amount of rubbish you produce by saying no to plastic bags, carrying your own recyclable bags with you instead. Be mindful of purchases you make, trying to avoid unnecessary packaging or additional plastic where possible.
- Pick up any rubbish you see on or near the beach! If you see someone litter, go pick it up and put it in the bin. So much human waste ends up in the water where turtles feed and it will kill them!
- Be mindful of chemicals you use around your home, particularly outside where they can be washed into the waterways and swept out to sea.
- When buying seafood, be mindful of how it’s caught. Trawlers using large nets often catch turtles inside them who, unable to get up for air, drown trapped inside the nets. Make mindful purchases by buying from fish farms or ensuring your tuna is pole caught, not captured en-mass.
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Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.