I have a terrible travel habit. Wherever I go to peek under the water, I can’t help but compare that place to Lady Elliot Island, a coral cay on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef. Why? Lady Elliot consistently rewards visitors with amazing encounters with marine life: manta rays, yes, and especially sea turtles.
Here are 10 of my favourite Lady Elliot Island turtle moments.
1- Witnessing a park ranger rescue trapped turtle hatchlings
On Lady Elliot, green and loggerhead turtle hatchlings often become trapped in their nests, stuck under heavy coral. If they can’t get out, they die.
Thankfully, Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service rangers visit the island during turtle hatching season (February-April) and rescue them.
I had the opportunity to accompany ranger John Meech on one of his rescue missions in February 2014. When he removed a large piece of coral from this nest, over a dozen relieved hatchlings scrambled out.
2- Being touched by a turtle
I attempted this ‘turtle selfie’ after a dive instructor in Cairns suggested it and was quite shocked when I felt this turtle’s flipper on my shoulder.
I like to think he was enamoured with me and thought he’d found a potential future exit buddy, but he was probably just interested in my dome port.
3- Making eye contact with a huge male loggerhead
I tend to see lots of green and hawksbill turtles on Lady Elliot, but my loggerhead sightings are less frequent.
So I was excited to encounter this huge, maybe 1.3-metre-long male loggerhead in late October, during turtle mating season. He swam slowly, eyeing me intently for several minutes before we parted ways.
4- Observing traffic patterns on a ‘turtle highway’
Really, all the waters surrounding Lady Elliot could be classed as turtle highways, but this shot, taken on the western side of the island, best illustrates the concept.
Passing one another, the turtles exchanged nods and smiles and kept on swimming in opposite directions.
5- Watching a turtle snaffle a jellyfish
Yum, yum – turtles love jellyfish. But I’d never seen a turtle enjoy one until this past November. I’d been photographing a lovely jellyfish and the tiny fish it was harbouring when a green turtle appeared, probably fifty metres away.
The turtle seemed to sense that jelly’s presence immediately and swam straight towards it without hesitation. Bye, bye, jellyfish. You were clearly delicious.
6- Meeting a turtle with an odd attachment
I’ve seen plenty of sea cucumbers in my snorkelling days, but hitchhiking sea cucumbers? Not until recently.
This turtle was probably resting on the lagoon floor when the sea cucumber crawled onto him. Something about his expression suggests that he wasn’t particularly impressed with the situation.
7- Counting shells at a teenage turtle party
Although you can find turtles anywhere in the Lady Elliot Island lagoon, the outer part, just beyond the end of Channel One, is where the juveniles tend to congregate.
Swim out here, look around, and start counting: seeing five or six at once isn’t unusual.
8- Being approached by a turtle
Lady Elliot turtles tend to be quite friendly. Looking up and noticing a turtle swimming straight towards you is one of the best feelings in the world.
9- Admiring from afar
Every turtle doesn’t swim towards you, though. Just admiring them as they gracefully navigate the ocean, sailing down to feed or rest and ascending to gulp the salty air, is also a magnificent experience.
10- Witnessing someone else’s turtle moment
I wouldn’t trade my turtle encounters for anything. But Lady Elliot has enough turtles for everyone, and watching someone else enjoying a moment is special as well.
To purchase these turtle images and others, visit Kara Murphy Images