WORDS & IMAGES: DANIELLE LANCASTER
It’s turtle time!
Danielle Lancaster, an avid conservationist and regular contributor with Our Planet Travel shares some of her tips and advice on these ancient mariners.
The grand old ladies are making their slow path up the beach to lay clutches of eggs deep under the sand – and hatchlings are appearing right now. It’s turtle time in Queensland!
8 turtle facts you may not know…
1. Turtles are reptiles
2. The turtle’s lower shell is called a ‘plastron’
3. It is estimated turtles have existed for around 215 million years
4. The largest turtle is the leatherback sea turtle which can weigh over 900kg
5. Female sea turtles are reported to come back to the same beach where they were born to lay their eggs year after year
6. The temperature in some turtles can play a part in the sex of the hatchling. Lower temperatures lead to a male while higher temperatures lead to a female.
7. Did you know? Sea turtles have special glands which help remove salt from the water they drink
8. Turtle season in Queensland officially starts in November and continues to late February with hatchlings emerging from November to late March. It is not unusual on a secluded beach in Queensland to see a female laying into late March.
Many turtle species are endangered. Intensified foreshore living and waste along coastal stretches has been a contributing reason for the decline in turtle numbers.
Tips for successful turtle viewing
Along the shores of Australia’s northern beaches and islands, Loggerhead, flatback and green turtles are laying and hatching. During peak nesting season it is not unusual to see 20 or more turtles slowly clamber up the beach (the crawl up the beach can take an hour or more), dig the nest, and then lay over 100 eggs.
Nesting turtles are easily disturbed by lights and movement, especially when leaving the water, crossing the beach and digging their nests. They are best seen near the high tide mark and usually more turtles will come ashore on nights when the high tide occurs near midnight rather than at dawn or dusk. Be patient, turtles are very timid and the slightest movement can put them off coming ashore. The nesting ritual can take hours to perform.
Hatching turtles are very disoriented by lights after they emerge from their nests. And please don’t handle them. Scientists working with them think the paddle they undertake to the water’s edge forms part of the important imprinting into their brains for their return many years later.
• Do not approach or shine lights on turtles leaving the sea or moving up the beach
• Avoid sudden movement
• Flash lights from cameras disturb the turtles – turn off the flash
Turtles predominately arrive after dark and therefore we suggest you don’t drive on any beach during laying or hatching time from 6pm to 6am. Turtles will still nest and hatch outside these times, however, in daylight they are easier to see.
5 of the best places in the world to see turtles
1. Mon Repos, Queensland, Australia
2. Kosgoda, Sri Lanka
3. The South Pacific
4. Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
5. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
What to do if you find an injured or dead turtle
If you find a native animal that is injured (including turtles) then contact RSPCA first on 1300 264 625 in Australia. If you are in a national park please have the local relevant park and state contact number with you – and remember rangers are not always available 24 hours a day in all parks.
Many turtles have been tagged. Check the turtle for a tag and photograph the tag (a smart phone image is fine) that clearly shows the tag digits. This information is of great help for the monitoring and research into these ancient marine creatures. We photographed a turtle’s tag while laying on Heron Island last year and from her tag we were told she was 70 years old.
Images courtesy © Danielle Lancaster
Danielle is a photojournalist based at Mt Tamborine, just outside Brisbane. She is a winner of several photography awards, with her most recent being the ‘Best Travel Book Writer’ at the 2014 Travel Journalism Awards held in Fiji. Danielle loves nature and the outdoors, and particularly loves photographing the Australian outback. Danielle is also the judge of our photo competitions and owns Bluedog Photography: www.blue-dog.com.au