Neil Pritchard February 17, 2019 0

Turtles

Six of the world’s seven species of turtles are found in WA waters:

  • green sea.
  • hawksbill.
  • loggerhead.
  • flatback.
  • leatherback.
  • olive ridley.

Nesting

  • Male and female turtles return to the region where they were born to mate and nest, sometimes migrating thousands of kilometres between their nesting and feeding grounds—a mean feat when it may have been decades since they were last there!
  • Females nest every two to eight years, and lay between one and 10 clutches of 30 to 180 eggs. The number of eggs laid and the number of times a turtle nests in each season varies between species and between different populations of the same species.
  • When nesting, the female turtle slowly crawls up the beach, one to two hours on either side of the evening high tide.
    • She selects a nesting site based on the height above the high tide mark, sand composition and moisture content, then digs a pit using all four flippers.
    • She may abandon the site if she hits an obstacle or the sand is not moist enough.
    • After creating a body pit, she digs a vertical egg chamber with her hind flippers and lays the eggs, then covers them with sand, camouflages her nest and returns to the water.
  • Nest temperature, in the early stages of embryo development, determines the sex of hatchlings. The temperature must be between 25-33°C for the embryos to grow. If the nest temperature is towards the cooler end of this range the hatchlings are all male, while warmer temperatures produce female hatchlings.

The Shark Bay Marine Park north to the Ningaloo Reef is some of the world’s major breeding areas for sea turtles.

The turtle nesting season between December and March, and after a six-week period hatching occurs. Generally, turtle hatchlings can be seen from February to March. 
 

Top Turtle Hatching Spots

Shark Bay
– Dirk Hartog Island (tours offered)

Carnarvon
– The Nursery at Point Quobba and Gnaraloo

Coral Bay 
– Maud’s Landing

Exmouth
– Jurabi Turtle Centre (tours offered)
– Five Mile Beach 
– Wobiri Beach

Please ensure you read the turtle watcher’s code of conduct before heading to the beaches to interact with marine turtles. As a key rule, please do not use a torch either at nesting or hatching as this can disorientate the turtle. 

Nesting

Stay still and at least 15m away until she is returning to the ocean when you can approach at 2m. 

  • Walk along the beach at the high tide mark (near the water) looking for tracks in the wet sand, or turtles.
  • Do not approach or shine lights on turtles leaving the water or moving up the beach.
  • If a turtle is encountered, calmly stop where you are, sit down, and wait for her to start digging.
  • Avoid excess noise and sudden movement at all times.
  • When approaching a nesting turtle crawl up behind her on your stomach (”commando crawl”).
  • Always position yourself behind the turtle and stay low (sit, crouch or lie on the sand).
  • If you are getting covered in sand as she digs you are too close!
  • Be patient – the nesting process may take 20 to 40 minutes – She may abandon the nest and dig another one for a variety of reasons including hitting an obstacle or the sand being too dry.
  • Wait until she is laying before moving closer. She will be quite still when laying her eggs – if sand is spraying or she is using her flippers, she is not laying.
  • Give her enough space to camouflage the nest.
  • Stay out of her sight.
  • Let her return to the ocean without interruption or getting between her and the ocean. This can take 10 to 15 minutes. 
  • Avoid all flash photography.
  • Depart all beaches by 11pm.

Hatching

It is extremely important that hatchlings are not handled or interfered with in any way during this time. Doing so will interrupt the completion of various developmental stages of the hatchling, thereby threatening its chances of survival.

  • Stand back from the nest – do not compact the sand.
  • Let the hatchlings make their own way down the beach.
  • Hatchlings can get stuck in footprints so stand to the side rather than crossing their path.
  • Do not touch or handle the hatchlings.
  • Do not use lights or flash photography.
  • Do not get between the hatchlings and the ocean.
  • No Glow, Move Slow and Stay Low  – Photography and torches must not be used as these discourage turtles from emerging on the beach, make nesting turtles return to the water and disorientate hatchlings. Turtle watchers should move slowly and crouch low to the ground when near turtles to avoid disturbing the nesting.
  • Stop, Drop and Become a Rock – When near a turtle, stop (where you are), drop (slowly to the ground) and become a rock (stay still like a rock). If you follow these guidelines, you will not jeopardize the egg laying and hatching processes.
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