Turtle soup! I love turtle soup! First time and I am a fan. Conservationists relax, I am not eating turtle soup, I am swimming in it. It could also be a bouillabaisse, as there are so many other fish about.
Lady Elliot Island
Lady Elliot Island, at the southernmost end of the Australian Great Barrier Reef and a mere 120km from Hervey Bay, is turtle paradise. Green turtles, Hawksbill turtles and Loggerhead turtles swim around this coral cay and come to lay their eggs here between the months of November and March.
I have just snorkelled off the glass bottom boat that takes visitors around to see the marine life that lies beneath. Rays glide past the glass producing cries of admiration from the onlookers onboard the vessel.
Many species of fish seem to look up at us and finally somebody exclaims: ‘Turtle!’ and we all search for it till the spotter clarifies: ‘Turtles are popping up everywhere!’ So we all abandon the glass bottom and start scouring the water’ surface. After a few minutes one turtle pops its head and then another and another. Time for a snorkel I decide.
Plunging in without a splash so as not to disturb the inhabitants below, I am greeted first by a few munching Parrotfish who look up from their feeding station and by a shoal of Scissortail Sergeants moving swiftly about. No turtles at the time but I didn’t have long to wait.
All of a sudden a curious Greenback looks at me from a cautious distance. I wave at her. She has watery eyes and moves to get a better angle. I feel I am part of Finding Nemo, my favourite movie.
Miss Turtle swims away but then another one comes and I almost scream into my mouthpiece as a shadow rises in front of me obscuring my vision. A gliding manta ray is a sight to behold. Knowing that they are gentle giants, I relax and watch it pass.
Lady Elliot Island is a hotspot for manta rays year around with their numbers increasing during the winter season (mid-May to mid-August) when it is not unusual to see them ‘frenzy-feeding’ on the water’s surface around the island in large numbers.
Lady Elliot Eco Resort
Getting to the Lady Elliot Eco Resort is part of the fun. A flight on a small plane is a true joy ride. The pilot takes care to show you around the island from the air, circling it as you approach. Once landed on the airstrip that bisects the island I notice a sign warning pedestrians to look out for landing craft.
The accommodation is not luxury but perfectly adequate for spending a few days on the island. One interesting thing is that the resort does not offer fish or seafood on their menu reflecting their policy of marine conservation.
Other eco-initiatives in place are the solar panels that provide energy; the reverse osmosis desalination plants that produce drinking water for the island; the ban on bottled water; a waste water treatment plant that provides irrigation water and the use of chemical free, biodegradable cleaning products.
The activities are varied and designed to keep every member of the family busy at all times. There are the obvious snorkelling and diving outings but more unusual are the guided ‘reef walks’ conducted at low tide.
Visitors are lead through the sandy lanes that form between the coral banks at low tide and are provided with ‘sea scopes’ – a long tube with a magnifying lens at the end- that can be used to see the coral and its inhabitants at close range. Participants are also provided with a walking pole to maintain balance while walking and with sturdy shoes to avoid cuts and grazes.
Bird life is abundant at Lady Elliot with 95 species of seabirds, shorebirds and land birds. Noddy terns are the most populous and so unafraid they hardly move from their nests as you approach.
Best place to watch the sunset is the western side of the island where the lighthouse built in the 1800s is. Grab an ice bucket, a bottle of bubbles and head across the landing strip towards the west till you reach the shore. Here I was treated by a fiery sunset and a full moon rising behind the lighthouse. We toasted to the incredible inhabitants of Lady Elliot and vowed to return.