Great Barrier Reef

15 unbelievable facts about Queensland sea turtles

From November to January each year, we welcome thousands of female sea turtles of the Great Barrier Reef to our sandy stretches where they lay their eggs under the cover of darkness.

But before you go greet the army of marine creatures waddling ashore, how about we get you better acquainted?

Learn more about Queensland’s sea turtle population below, where you’ll find 15 unbelievable facts about the Sunshine State’s shelled residents.

Turtle hatchling | Best places to visit this summer

1. We’re not exaggerating when we say Queensland is a turtle haven. Six of the world’s seven species are local residents. Leatherback, green turtle, loggerhead turtle, hawksbill turtle, flatback turtle and Olive Ridley turtle are all regular visitors to our shores.

2. Turtles are global citizens. You can find sea turtles on every continent except Antarctica.

3. Turtles have been exploring the ocean’s depths for more than 120 million years, evolving long before mammals, birds, snakes, and lizards. It makes sense now how they’ve coined the nickname ‘ancient mariners’.

4. It’s a tough life: it’s estimated that only one out of a thousand hatchlings will survive the journey out to sea and to adulthood.

5. Of all the world’s turtles, the largest are leatherbacks. When fully grown, these gentle giants measure two metres in length and weigh up to 900 kilograms.

green turtle hatchling

6. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Tor turtles have impressively sharp senses. They boast an acute sense of smell underwater in particular, and it’s this skill which helps them to locate food when water is a little murky.

7. Turtles like to nest on more secluded stretches of sand (which is why the Great Barrier Reef is a favourite). Warm sand incubates eggs, with young hatching 45 to 70 days after being laid, depending on sun exposure.

8. A hatchling’s sex is dependent on the temperature of sand in which the nest sits. Cooler nests produce more boys and warmer, more girls.

9. Fun fact: turtles are big fans of Queensland too. Lady Elliot Island, Lady Musgrave Island  Heron Island, Mon Repos neighbouring Bundaberg, Green Island and Fitzroy Island remain popular hatching grounds.

10. The shell of a sea turtle is incredibly strong; dubbed the carapace it is made up of about 50 different bones. The underside of the shell is called the plastron.

Turtles near Brisbane

11. After hatching, baby turtles immediately make the dangerous journey to the ocean, not returning to the sandy shoreline for at least 30 years until they’ve reached sexual maturity.

12. Turtles absorb and collect oxygen through the skin on their neck and flippers, meaning they can remain underwater for four to seven hours. During this time, their heart rate drops as low as one beat every nine minutes.

13. Queensland has created a special turtles-only sanctuary on the Great Barrier Reef. Raine Island is in the pink zone, meaning no humans are allowed to visit, allowing some 3,000 green turtles much-deserved privacy during nesting season.

14. We weren’t always so respectful of nesting turtles. Heron Island used to be a turtle cannery up until the 1930s. Alongside a chance to see hatchlings, visitors could ride on the backs of turtles as they made their way up the beach.

15. Diet-wise, turtles like to nibble on seagrass and jellyfish. Unfortunately plastic bags can be easily confused for jellyfish, which is why rubbish should never be thrown into the ocean.

Even more eager to introduce yourself to Queensland’s shell-adorned residents? Head here to see where we suggest.