Green Sea Turtle Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, QLD - Image credit Worlds Wildlife Wonders

Go slow for those below

The Great Barrier Reef gives visitors some special opportunities to closely observe the life cycle of one of nature's most ancient and fascinating creatures, the marine turtle.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a critical foraging and nesting area to six of the world’s seven turtle species.

Globally, marine turtle numbers are rapidly declining which makes this Australian ‘nursery’ even more significant.

It’s vital that you be particularly careful when boating in areas known to have turtle populations or when you’re watching turtle nesting.

In general

  • Never touch, grab or lean on turtles, hatchlings or eggs
  • Do not try to feed turtles
  • Do not light campfires on turtle nesting beaches.

When viewing from boats

  • Be on the look out for surfacing turtles in areas such as shallow reef flats and seagrass beds. Travel slowly in these areas, with no wake
  • If a turtle is close to your vessel, engage neutral and allow the animal to move freely
  • Do not encircle or trap turtles with vessels. Allow an escape route
  • Do not drive your vessel over a turtle
  • Do not pursue turtles if they try to avoid the vessel or flee the area.

When viewing turtle nesting

  • Do not approach a turtle emerging from the water or moving up the beach
  • On sighting a turtle emerging from the water, keep still and turn off all lights until laying begins
  • Do not alter the environment in any way
  • Limit the use of light by turning torches off whenever possible and viewing with ambient light. Turtles may get confused by artificial light and may not finish nesting
  • Use low wattage torches (less than three-volt, two-cell) with red cellophane or a filter over the bulb
  • Never shine lights directly onto turtles – angle the light towards the sand at the side of the turtle
  • Stay well clear (at least two metres) of turtles nesting, covering their nest and moving up or down the beach – never stand in their pathway or make them alter their course
  • Keep still and quiet – sudden movements will disturb turtles
  • Remain behind turtles as they dig and lay their eggs – do not stand in front or where they can see you
  • Restrict use of flash photography to a minimum and only take flash photos during the egg laying phase. Always take these photos from behind the turtle
  • Turn off all lights and do not use flash photography when the turtle is returning to the sea
  • Remove lights and back away from the turtles if they appear stressed
  • Watch where you step to avoid crushing eggs or hatchlings. Do not disturb or dig up nests.

When viewing hatching

  • Stay well clear (at least two metres) of nests where hatchlings are emerging
  • Limit the use of light and never shine lights directly onto hatchlings. Hatchlings may become confused by artificial light and may not make it to the ocean
  • Use low wattage torches (less than three-volt, two-cell) with red cellophane or a filter over the bulb
  • Do not shine torches out to sea when hatchlings are in the water – this may cause the hatchlings to return to shore
  • Allow hatchlings to dig themselves out of the nest and run to the sea without disturbance or assistance
  • Do not touch or handle hatchlings
  • Never interfere with natural events (for example, rescuing hatchlings from seabirds or predatory fish).

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

  • You must not ‘take’ turtles or their eggs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park unless you have a Marine Parks permit. Note: ‘Take’ includes removing, gathering, killing or interfering with, or attempting to take. There may be special arrangements for Traditional Owners.