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lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

Swimming with turtles

  |   Articles, UNESCO   |   31 Comments

This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

It’s one thing to see turtles hatching and laying their eggs, as I did at the Mon Repos Turtle Rookery on the Queensland coast near Bundaberg. It’s a completely different experience to actually swim with them. Imagine snorkelling along and then suddenly finding yourself surrounded by at least a dozen of the animals, just floating and chilling and enjoying the water like you. That’s pretty much what happened.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

Let’s go back a step, though, and set the scene. I am basically in the middle of nowhere – on a small crop of land called Lady Elliot Island. It is the southernmost point of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is only 40 hectares large – about the size of the land the country’s Parliament House is on in Canberra. And it’s not even an island in the traditional sense. It’s actually a collection of bird poo and other sediment that has formed over the top of coral.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife

It’s 80 kilometres from the coast here on Lady Elliot Island and it feels as far away from civilisation as you can get on the Queensland tourism trail. The only access is by small planes and only one small ecoresort provides accommodation. Humans are not in the majority here. This is an island created by animals and an island still ruled by animals.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife

The birds are the first thing you notice here on Lady Elliot island. It’s an extremely important nesting site for seabirds and has the most varieties of any island in the Great Barrier Reef. They sit everywhere – including in the middle of the paths to your rooms – and you’ve got to be ever vigilant not to trip over them.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife

But the real highlights are in the surrounding water. The island and the area around it have the highest level of environmental protection possible in the reef. That means clear waters and an abundance of coral and sea life.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife

So this is when I met the turtles. I had donned my snorkel and goggles, pulled on some flippers, and walked backwards into the water to avoid tripping over myself. I had put my head down and started swimming out into the lagoon on the shallow side of the island when I saw something large move to my right.  When I looked across, I saw it gliding towards me.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

Who knows what turtles think about? It looked like not much was troubling them. They certainly weren’t worried about a human with a fluoro snorkel suddenly appearing in their space. In fact, they came closer and were happy to play and pose for photos.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

The coral reef here is home to a lot of sea life – from sea cucumbers to sharks (of which I saw just one small one) to manta rays and, of course, fish. There is little here to disturb the marine animals and this is the whole point of the Great Barrier Reef protection. For people like divers, snorkelers and scientists, this is one of the best access points to the coral and the life that depends on it.

I’m going to write a bit more soon about the island and the facilities here because it’s fascinating to find out how you accommodate people in such an isolated spot. In the meantime, though, I thought I would share some photos from under the waters around Lady Elliot Island.

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater

* You can find out more here about visiting Lady Elliot Island for daytrips or for overnight stays,

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Queensland but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

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31 Comments
  • Claire @ ZigZag On Earth | Feb 13, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Love the close shot. The turtle seems to think: “What, do you want my picture???” LOL
    Great pictures!
    Claire @ ZigZag On Earth recently posted..Nature paradise of Jervis Bay, not far from Sydney!My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Ha ha! I would love to know what they were actually thinking. They certainly didn’t seem at all worried by me swimming around them. In fact, quite often they would come up for a closer look. I guess I don’t look too threatening… or perhaps they knew I was just another turtle! ;)

  • Lauren Meshkin | Feb 13, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    LOVE that first photo! What a cool experience. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels :)
    Lauren Meshkin recently posted..Finding Danish Comfort & Style at The Hamlet InnMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      I was really happy with the shot too. It was the first time I had got to use my new GoPro underwater so was just playing around with it. But it got some really nice pics, even though there wasn’t a huge amount of light coming through because it was a rainy day.

  • Sand In My Suitcase | Feb 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    What a wonderful experience! Looks like a great snorkeling trip…
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..Swimming with happy dolphins in Los CabosMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      I don’t think there are many places in the world where you would get snorkelling this good. That’s what’s so special about the Great Barrier Reef!

  • Ann Cee | Feb 16, 2014 at 3:55 am

    Love the photos. It makes me think of the movie “Finding Nemo”. Yeah, duuuuuude…
    Ann Cee recently posted..Readjusting to the Real WorldMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      Ha ha ha – you really can see where they got the ideas for the character from. They really do act just like that!

  • Jaryd | Feb 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Such A great Island to visit on Australia, I can’t wait to get there and free dive. Looks amazing Michael

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      There are some great diving opportunities there! I’m more into snorkelling but you would love it if you’re a diving enthusiast!

  • Sarah | Feb 16, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    These photos are amazing!!! Go you!

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks, Sarah! Turtle meets turtles – how could it ever go wrong? :)

  • Dan | Feb 17, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Awesome stuff. What camera are you using?
    Dan recently posted..Is It Selfish To Travel With Children?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 7:31 am

      The underwater shots are with my new GoPro. It’s a Hero3+. (I’m not really sure how it works because it’s brand new… I’ve gotta get some practice in!)

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel | Feb 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I love the second photo of the turtle. It is so amazing! All of the photos are incredible. Thanks for sharing!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..INTERVIEW: Jimmy Nelson Photographs Vanishing Tribes in Before They Pass AwayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 7:44 am

      It’s almost as if the turtles were posing!! They make great subjects for photos.

  • Sandra | Feb 27, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Ah that looks like so much fun! Great photos.
    Sandra recently posted..Escape from AlcatrazMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 7:30 am

      It was heaps of fun. Could have gone on forever!!

  • Cam | Mar 1, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Ah, the irony… a turtle swimming with a turtle…
    Cam recently posted..Recap from our first trip to Sunny ArizonaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 7:20 am

      He he… I would like to say it was just a coincidence, but… :)

  • Link Love: Snake eats croc, best pancakes in Brisbane, big mango stolen, wilson found + more - Queensland Blog | Mar 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    […] And travel blogger Michael Turtle went swimming with turtles in the waters off Lady Elliot […]

  • Angus Pryor | Mar 5, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Great photos. I had a brief encounter with a turtle in New Caledonia last November while snorkeling. I’d love to have done what you did. The guy I saw didn’t hang around.
    Angus Pryor recently posted..Comment on The two worst holiday mistakes I ever made by carmelMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 7:01 am

      These guys wouldn’t leave! (Perhaps they were thinking the same thing about me!!). That would have been very cool in New Caledonia too. I’ve never been but it looks amazing!

  • Marcello Arrambide | Mar 12, 2014 at 6:36 am

    It really is a cool experience to actually swim with them! I had about the same experience when I went scuba diving in Hawaii last year. They’re so graceful underwater.
    Marcello Arrambide recently posted..Update To Our Day Trader’s Penthouse In MedellinMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 6:29 am

      Aren’t they just? It seems like they’re making so little effort just to glide around. I guess when you live for that long, there’s no point stressing, though (something we humans could probably learn – ha!)

  • Janice Stringer | Mar 15, 2014 at 5:04 am

    Up close and personal is always my first choice of connection. To see the wonders of the underwater world is a great gift!
    Janice Stringer recently posted..Making The Decision To Travel By Public Transport in SwitzerlandMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 6:20 am

      I’m also not a huge fan of diving and I think that’s one of the fun things about snorkelling – you feel like you’re a lot closer to things sometimes!

  • Jennifer | Mar 20, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Perhaps it is because I am a Pices, but being in the water is my favorite thing to do. I just get so excited to see all the fish and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef is a dream of mine. Love all the beautiful fish you saw, including the Picasso Triggerfish which is one of my favorites. And swimming with turtles is always an incredible experience.
    Jennifer recently posted..An Exclusive Look at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo Wine CellarMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 6:17 am

      The turtles were a real highlight! That was my first time underwater on the Great Barrier Reef and I can’t wait to get back and do some more another time!

  • The Travel Sisters | Mar 31, 2014 at 7:03 am

    Really enjoyed your pictures. What an amazing experience!
    The Travel Sisters recently posted..Hugging a Panda in Chengdu, China!My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 4:40 am

      It was pretty incredible. I just loved the way they were all so chilled around me too. (Perhaps they knew I was a turtle as well!!) :)

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