Swimming with turtles
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.