Leave Only Footprints | Heron Island Turtles

See the green and loggerhead turtles nesting

Leave Only Footprints | Heron Island Turtles

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leave only footprints
Flying into Heron Island. Main photo: Christina Pfeiffer. Other photos: Irene Isaacson.

Heron Island has a history not to be proud of. In the 1920’s, Heron Island housed a turtle canning factory and in the 1950’s turtle riding was a popular event with Heron Island Resort visitors. But these days, “leave only footprints” is a slogan that comes to mind when you visit this nature resort

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Historical photo of turtle riding at Heron Island Resort

The resort staff were tasked to go out at night and roll turtles onto their backs so they would be available for guests during the day to ride and have photos taken.

Thank God we have evolved since those times. Now a Capricornia Bay National Park and Marine Park, wildlife is fully protected on Heron Island.  

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Sunset on the Maheno Wreck

Turtle breeding seasons

The island is a nesting home for green and loggerhead turtles in the months of late November to April each year.  

They can lay a clutch of up to 120 eggs at a time, and come back three to five times in a season, but only four to six years at a time.

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Turtle tracks at sunrise

The females return to the same beach they lay their eggs on, as do the hatchlings when they become mature breeding females.

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Turtle making her nest in the sand dunes

As a guest of the resort, you can wander at night to view the turtles coming onto land to make their nest. But there are strict rules to be followed so as not to disturb this natural phenomenon in action.

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Laying the eggs

It can take from two hours or four to five hours, depending on the conditions and the type and nature of the turtle.

Loggerheads are known to be much faster, whilst greens tend to wander around a bit and are more choosey where they decide to lay.  

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Burying her nest in the sand

How turtles react to light

It is known that turtles are put off by lights and are very sensitive to movement.

Torches or any form of light are not allowed on the beach or nearby, unless it is a weak yellow or red light.

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Digging a nest made too low on the beach

If you see a turtle ahead of you, simply stop until she has gone well past up into the dunes.

Once they have started laying about 15 to 20 eggs, a hormone kicks in for her to continue laying despite people close by watching and monitoring her progress.

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Egg clutch can be 120 eggs or more

All turtles are tagged for research purposes and their shell measured for size and maturity, usually by a team of volunteers.  

Once the ping-pong shaped eggs are laid, there is a two hour window for them to form an embryo.

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Taking turtle data is very important research

If the eggs are laid below the high tide line, volunteers have that window to move the eggs to higher ground to ensure their survival.

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Turtle at sunrise

Turtle hatching seasons

It takes around six to eight weeks for the eggs to hatch and up to  three days for the hatchlings to dig themselves up through the deep sand to the surface.

Then the race is on to make it to the water before predators feast on the moving smorgasbord flipping its way to the sea.

Leave Only Footprints
Heading back out to sea after laying her eggs

It has been shown that the baby turtles are attracted to light and will follow it. If it isn’t the light of the moon or stars on the water but a flashlight or a room light, they will go towards it.  

Leave Only Footprints
The long road back out to sea

And they are even known to come out of the water to follow a light, so a no light policy is essential to their survival to get them to go to and stay in the water.

Leave Only Footprints
Watching turtles nesting under red light

Leave only footprints (rules of engagement)

No lights on the beach

No flash photography

Stand still if a turtle is nearby or you may cause a ‘turn around’

Pass or view her only from behind

Leave Only Footprints
Turtle in the sand dunes

Stages of nesting

Body pitting: stay 10m behind her- no lights at all

Digging her egg chamber (50cm deep): stay 10m behind her – no lights at all

Laying her eggs: slowly approach from behind after 15 to 20 eggs are laid, and take photos without a flash (a low power torch is okay)

Covering her eggs: a low power torch is okay but only around her rear

Camouflaging her nest: stay 10m behind her – no lights at all

Returning to sea: stay 10m behind her – no lights at all

Leave Only Footprints
Heron Island, a beautiful island – The Maheno Wreck and The Jetty

So enjoy but be Turtle Wise!

Leave Only Footprints
Take photos, leave only footprints – Ferry leaving Heron

Irene Isaacson stumbled around in search of turtles in the early morning hours at her own expense and sleep deprivation.

Discover Queensland

Queensland has wonderful island escapes and some of the best beaches in Australia. There are plenty of luxury resorts to choose from for couples and families. For more ideas on what to do in Queensland, read this post.

Looking for a wildlife adventure? Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is the place to go on the Gold Coast while the Daintree rainforest animals are a fascination of northern Queensland. Tasmania wildlife parks also offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife encounters.

Heron Island Turtles


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