On the southernmost point of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island has some of the highest levels of environmental protection in the whole reef. If you wanted to meet baby turtles (who doesn’t?!), Scout Hinchliffe is here to tell us how.
There is no denying that we have all watched an episode of the big David A and might have:
1) fallen asleep to his hypnotic soothing voice and
2) before falling asleep, kept wishing that we could be there first hand to witness the magical moments of nature.
If you are lucky enough, Lady Elliot Island (LEI) can make these wishes come true from November to late March with the beaches coming alive with nesting Green Sea and Loggerhead turtles and their hatchlings.
Our lucky stars must have been aligned during our most recent trip to LEI as we got to experience not 1 but 3 lots of green sea turtle hatchlings emerge and begin their fight for life to the EAC (East Australian Current).
The destructive practice of extracting the guano from the soil on the island for a decade during the late 1800’s resulted in the removal of all vegetation and 3 feet of surface soil. This means that, to this day, the nests are made up of more coral rubble and rocks than sand which can leave the hatchlings trapped as they only have one sense of direction out of the nest, UP!
Thankfully, John, LEI’s “Turtle Man” does rounds of the island to scope out the nests to rescue any hatchlings that he believes are trapped. John was on the island when we arrived and had found 201 trapped hatchlings that would be released that night, therefore we were guaranteed to see hatchlings.
Although the release was not natural, it was an amazing learning experience. John educated all of the guests on these serene creatures and even though artificial light can make the hatchlings disorientated, John allowed flash photography up until a certain point down the beach. As he said, he was giving the little beauties a second chance at life anyway.
Scoping out the nests around the island was mind blowing. The mothers certainly get your brain ticking over with ‘how the hell have they managed to get there’. There are some nests in the garden beds of the resort accommodation; making the walk to and from dinner interesting especially when we came across lost hatchlings cruising through the resort.
There was a nest literally 5 metres from our bed and we had been keeping a close on eye on it. Unfortunately, we had missed the hatchlings during the night but, the next morning there had been movement of the nest and a big piece of rubble had dropped down on to it.
By moving it we solely (along with the resort manager) saved the lives of 7 hatchlings.
After becoming self-proclaimed heroes in the morning, that afternoon on sunset we stumbled across hundreds of hatchlings spilling out of the sand. So much was going on, it seemed so overwhelming. It sure was pure magic though. We will never forget the sounds their strong little flippers made as they scurried over the shelly beach.
When you realise that only 1 in 1000 hatchlings survive to maturity your respect for these little creatures grows and you cannot help but cheer and encourage them as they dash towards the water’s edge. Even this stage is challenging as they face obstacles on the sand. Some are a little sleepy and take a while to get started, while others race off to the sea at a speed that would impress even Usain Bolt!