Everything you need to know about baby turtles and the turtle-hatching season

Forget David Attenborough and his TV documentaries, there’s a real-life National Geographic scene that takes place off the coast of Queensland every year.

Think thousands of baby turtles muscling their way out of their sandy nests and making a nightly dash for the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s one of Australia’s greatest conservation and educational experiences and a must-do on any nature lover’s bucket list.

Discover all you need to know about the turtle-hatching season with this snappy guide.

When is the hatching season?

The shelled stars of the hatching show perform from January until March to make the most of the Queensland summer heat as an incubator for the eggs.

Mother turtles find sunny spots just off the shore to lay their young between November and January, which hatch approximately 45-70 days (about 6-8 weeks) after.

Where are the best hatching spots?

Everything you need to know about baby turtles and the turtle-hatching season

Sea turtles prefer secluded, sandy beaches to lay their eggs, which is why the isolated islands at the very north and southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef are popular turtle nesting spots.

If you’re exploring Tropical North Queensland you can catch the turtle-hatching season at Green Island and Fitzroy Island.

For a spectacular show, head to the Southern Great Barrier Reef turtle hubs of Mon Repos and Lady Elliot Island. There are daily tours that give visitors the opportunity to get up close with the baby turtles as they make their way from the nest to sea.

Mon Repos supports the largest population of nesting marine loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific and the 2019/2020 season will be like none other thanks to the opening of the new multi-million dollar interpretive turtle centre.

The range of experiences and interactivity within the new turtle centre has vastly increased the opportunities for visitors to explore, engage, and have fun learning about marine turtle research and conservation. Tickets for this season are now on sale.

Other turtle hot spots include Lady Musgrave Island, Heron Island, and Great Keppel Island, all residing along the Capricorn Coast and the Gladstone Region.

Turtle-y awesome hatching facts

Everything you need to know about baby turtles and the turtle-hatching season

Photo by @laurenepbath

  • Sand temperature determines the sex of the turtles, with the cooler nests producing more males and the warmers nests hatching more females.
  • Baby turtles hatch at approximately 15-30g with a length of 5-7cm #adorable
  • While in the nest, hatchlings create an internal GPS using the Earth’s magnetic field. They then use this GPS to find their way back to their birthplace when it is time for them to nest.
  • Only one out of 1000 hatchlings survive to the mature age of 30, with the average lifespan for a turtle being 60-80 years.
  • The best time of day to spot turtles hatching is at night when the temperature is cooler and there is less chance of being caught as prey by other animals.
  • When they hatch at night, the baby turtles instinctively head towards to lowest natural light, which is the horizon over the open ocean – their ultimate destination.

Keen for more info on baby turtles? Check out these flippin’ awesome guides:

Everything you need to know about baby turtles and the turtle-hatching season

Have you seen a turtle hatch before? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

*This post was originally published in 2014 and updated in January 2018.