Swimming with turtles

At the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef, some of the best water and coral life is around Lady Elliot Island. See for yourself!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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.

Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia
Nature on Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

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

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33 thoughts on “Swimming with turtles”

    • 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! 😉

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  1. 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.

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    • 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!

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    • 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!)

      Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. Love Lay Elliot island its another jewel in the Great Barrier Reef. Your right about the birds they are everywhere and when i was over there 3 years ago it smelt like bird droppings everywhere. Lucky you can not smell it while diving it gives you a break :). The coral was awesome and it was great to dive with turtles and a few sharks and rays.

    Reply
  4. What an amazing experience. We have snorkeled with fur seals, dolphins and manta rays. We have seen the odd turtle on Ningaloo but being surrounded by turtles must have been amazing. We definitely need to add this to our must do destinations!

    Reply

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