As we set off for another adventure we were not sure who was more excited this time, us or the kids! Our 3 year old, Marli, could not wait to go in a car, bus, plane and boat all in one day, but we were about to fulfil a life long dream of ours to witness and photograph baby turtles hatching on the world famous Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
After the adventurous day of travel, as exciting as it was for Marli, we arrived in paradise with calm seas and a low tide just in time to enjoy the sunset over the famous shipwreck (The HMAS Protector). With a cold drink in hand, we instantly felt relaxed as the warm tropical breeze and good vibes surrounded us… ahhh bliss!
Swimmig around the shipwreck we said hello to a few larger resident fish that we have seen hanging out there in past visits and we are always instantly bursting with excitement as a sea turtle cruises on past or comes up to the surface to take a breath. Swimming alongside a sea turtle is an amazing experience and something you can pretty much guarantee when visiting Heron Island as it boasts a population of around 4000 resident turtles.
To our delight we witnessed two nests hatching and with squeals of excitement we watched (and snapped our cameras like mad) as these tiny little babies, about 8cm long, emerged from the sand.
At one nest site we were following the flurry of the seagulls above and searched around the bushes to look for a nest only to be surprised to see tiny turtles pop up right between our feet!! Jumping out of the way we took in the remarkable moment of their first sprint down the sand towards the water. Shooing the seagulls away like a bunch of mad nutters we recruited the help of others nearby and we all banded together to help give the hatchlings the best start they could have. We all felt a great sense of camaraderie sharing in such a memorable exciting moment!
It is said that 1 out of 1000 hatchlings make it to maturity so those little guys had a big job ahead of them. Once they make it past the predators from above they then face the sharks and fish that are attracted after feeling their vibrations on the sand as they run down the beach. You should not pick the baby turtles up and carry them to the water (away from the birds) as they use the journey down the sand to build strength and to produce body heat that will enable them to swim and cope with the shock of the cold water. Without interfering too much we did what we could.
One fellow resort guest escorted one little guy (or girl – the turtles sex is determined by the temperature of the nest) all the way out to the reef edge, knee deep in water he ‘shooed away those birds as long as he could! “Go you good thing”!! Lets hope he is still out there cruising around the ocean! Once the baby turtles swim out into the open ocean they drift with the ocean current for the first 5 – 10 years of their life, feeding close to the surface on plankton, seaweed, insects and small crustaceans. Once they reach sexual maturity they migrate back to the beach where they hatched to mate and/or lay their eggs.
With so much excitement each day we made sure we enjoyed some down-time, especially for the kids. Our family reef room gave us the perfect place to retreat and chill out when needed. With the sound of the birds humming in the background we relaxed on our balcony, enjoyed a quick dip in the balmy water that is only a few steps away, or built sand castles under the shade of the pandanus trees – sometimes it’s these simple moments that make the best memories. On our previous visit to the island, we also enjoyed a guided tour of the research station which has an amazing tropical fish tank and a touch pool for the kids, we enjoyed reef walks as well as some guided snorkeling and dive tours. There are so many activity options avaliable and you can choose to do as much or as little as you like… can it get any better?! We can’t get enough of this place and hope to come back again soon…
For now, we say good bye, until next time Heron Island… we will be back.
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Book your holiday to Paradise – aka Heron Island, you won’t regret it.