Mon Repos & beyond: Where to see turtles in Queensland
Sea turtles are like, totally cool man. Probs why Nemo’s turtle-buddy Crush sounds more like a relaxed-surfer dude, and less like a mutant ninja warrior.
These amazing creatures have been cruising the world’s oceans for over 150 million years, which could, in fact, be the secret behind that wise, all-knowing look they wear. But those cute little noggins have more recently become the face of pressing environmental concerns, like plastic pollution and their own fight to survive against the odds.
It’s no wonder that getting up close and personal with a sea turtle is top of any animal encounter ‘must-do’, and nowhere on earth provides more opportunity than Queensland, hosting six of the world’s seven marine species.
Here’s how you can see these gentle, graceful gliders all year round.
You can see turtles off most of Queensland’s coastline, from South Stradbroke Island (east of Brisbane) all the way to Torres Strait. But if you really want to hit the turtle jackpot, head to Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, starting just north of Fraser Island.
The Southern Great Barrier Reef provides plenty of turtle-spotting opportunities and is easily accessible from Bundaberg, Gladstone and Seventeen-Seventy. Take a day trip by boat or stay overnight: Heron, Fitzroy and Lady Musgrave islands have a range of accommodation options, from camping to luxe. Just don’t forget the snorkel!
A 45-minute boat trip from Cairns will land you at Green Island, host to a wide array of marine life including green and hawksbill turtles that use the reef fringes and seagrass meadows for feeding throughout the year.
Also try Opal Reef (a 90-minute boat ride from Port Douglas), Mackay Reef (off Cape Tribulation) and the Turtle Bay dive site (Agincourt Reefs), which have frequent turtle visitors late spring/early summer including green, hawksbill, loggerhead and olive ridley turtle species.
TAKE A TURTLE TOUR
Bee-line it to Bundaberg between November and January when turtles come ashore to nest at Mon Repos beach and hatchlings make the dash back to the ocean from the New Year onwards. Turtle encounter tours are conducted nightly from the Mon Repos Turtle Centre (November to March) and Connect with Nature activities operate during some school holidays.
Lady Elliot Island has the closest reef to Brisbane and you’ll find a turtle or two hanging around the eastern side of the island where a lagoon opens up at high tide. You can enjoy plenty of guided options here including clear-bottom boat tours, see-through kayaks, dive and snorkel.
If you want to cruise the seas just like the turtles, take a day trip to Lady Musgrave Island from Bundaberg with Lady Musgrave Experience. In the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island’s Hardy Reef pontoon has underwater viewing chambers and semi-submersibles to explore the local marine life. The shallow water is perfect for snorkelling, plus there’s a lifeguard station and rest stations in the water.
Further north, join a Quicksilver Cruise from Port Douglas to Agincourt Reef (Whitsundays) where you’ll find an underwater observatory, semi-submersibles, snorkelling platforms and specially designed introductory dive areas. Locals have nicknamed some of the Agincourt regulars including “Lucky”, the three-flippered green sea turtle. Sunlover tours will take you out to Moore Reef from Cairns for more snorkel heaven.
Or for the ultimate experience, take a dive trip to Raine Island at the northern of the Great Barrier Reef with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. It’s a preservation (no-go) zone due to the number of green turtles that come ashore here in nesting season, more than anywhere in the world! You’re not allowed on the protected coral cay, but can explore its one-of-a-kind fringing reef with coral gardens, plunging walls and dozens of what you came here for… the turtles.
IT’S A KIND OF MAGIC
Mon Repos is a sea turtle hot spot, but there are plenty of other beaches you can visit on your own to witness turtle magic. Just remember to keep any light and noise to an absolute minimum or you’ll disorientate the little beauties. If you are headed to Mon Repos during hatching season we’ve got you covered with this guide.
Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island are all southern nesting grounds for green and loggerhead turtles. Shhh… the females have often travelled thousands of kilometres for this, but can hit the cancel button on the nesting process if they feel harassed. Make sure you give her some space, yeah?
You can also catch nesting/hatching season at Great Keppel Island, one of the most important rookeries for flatback turtles migrating from Torres Strait plus Green Island and Fitzroy Island off Cairns.
HELP A FLIPPER OUT
Lucky for little turtle dudes, there’s now heaps of education around the plight of these endangered creatures and amazing facilities where you can learn more about turtles, help care for them and even adopt them!
Mon Repos Sea Turtle Centre is run by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, a 15 minutes’ drive from Bundaberg: an information centre, conservation and long-term research monitoring centre as well as the base for nightly tours operating during hatching season.
Offshore, Lady Elliot Island’s Reef Education Centre has informative and interactive displays, and Heron Island has its own Marine Centre, home to the University of Queensland’s world-class research station with tours run daily plus a Junior Rangers program on weekends/school holidays.
Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island is a volunteer-run, non-profit organisation caring for sick and injured turtles from all over the Great Barrier Reef and Cape York Peninsula and also runs daily tours of the rehabilitation facilities.
You can also see turtles and help with conservation projects at Sea Life Sunshine Coast and Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, and at Sea World on the Gold Coast. Remember, if you find a sick or injured turtle to call 1300 ANIMAL. You can do your part to help their survival with these ideas.