What you need to know about turtle nesting season

Welcome to turtle season on the southern great barrier reef! This exciting season brings guests to the island from far and wide to see two endangered species of sea turtle producing the next generation. There are some important guidelines to follow while looking for nesting turtles, with these and the process of egg laying covered in this blog.

Step One:

Female turtles will generally choose to leave the water at night and during high tide. This should make the journey on land shorter, and nightfall should provide a safer and cooler environment for egg laying. As the female leaves the water, she will scan the beach continuously to ensure it is safe as she slowly slides her body towards the top of the beach. Once she reaches her desired area on the beach, she will begin to clear away any unfavourable objects such as vegetation, tree roots and large chunks of coral. This stage is called “body pitting” and the turtle will use all four of her flippers to clear away this debris. This stage often sounds like smashing plates (due to the coral) and is done at a fairly fast pace. Once the debris is cleared away, the female should be left with somewhat damp sand, ready for step two. Step one can take anywhere between 20 minutes to several hours as these animals can be very picky about where they lay their eggs and may move several times before deciding on an acceptable body pit.

A Loggerhead turtle body pitting at 4pm near Coral Gardens, an unusual sight!

Step Two:

The area is now clear, and the top layer of material has been moved. The turtle will begin construction on an egg chamber using her rear two flippers, while the front two flippers remain in place. The rear flippers are extremely dextrous, like our hands. They will scoop down into the sand and alternate a flicking behaviour to move the sand out of the way. The turtle will continue doing this until she can no longer reach the bottom of the egg chamber and at this point you will hear almost no sand being flicked out and you may notice a rocking motion as she reaches down. Step two can take anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, and again the turtle may stop and start over if she is not happy with the condition of the egg chamber.

A Green turtle egg chambering, notice the alternating flick of sand from the rear flippers.

Step Three:

Once the turtle is satisfied with the egg chamber she has created, she will pause for several minutes, and you will not hear any sound. Egg laying will commence after this time has elapsed at which point you are able to carefully move in to see the eggs. During egg laying, the female is very calm and while she is aware of your presence, she accepts you into her space. The eggs are soft and resemble ping pong balls, they bounce off each other as they fall into the nest, with generally 80-150 eggs per nest depending on species.

A Green turtle laying at 6am on the Western side of Lady Elliot Island.

Step Four:

Once the turtle has laid her eggs, her rear flippers will fold in, and she will begin covering the eggs over. She makes sure to pack them in tightly for protection and to ensure the eggs can withstand weight being put on the nest. The covering in can again, take quite some time, up to 1.5 hours before the turtle makes her way back down to the comfort of the ocean.

A green turtle making her way back to the water at Coral Gardens.

Important Notes:

  • This is an intimidating time for these endangered species! Remember to always stay behind the turtle and out of its line of sight
  • Attend our turtle update the day of arrival.
  • Give the turtle plenty of space, this also makes it more likely that she will nest as she will feel more comfortable.
  • We recommend that when walking the beach, you use a dull or red torch, if you are using a bright, white light please shine it through your t-shirt
  • Please do not touch nesting turtles
  • When looking at eggs, keep your torch light down low and if you are using a flash, please also keep this low to minimise any disturbance to the turtle.
  • The sound of people talking around turtles is okay, but we advise against any running, throwing coral or loud noises.

If you are walking the beach and see a turtle laying eggs, please let our activities team know so that we can GPS mark this location and put a pole in the ground to ensure it is not frequently walked on. Some guests have been kind enough to leave us messages in the sand and even arrows pointing to the eggs (which requires the turtle to have returned to the water). We hope you can join us for turtle nesting season to witness the magic!