19 September 2023
Turtle Breeding season in the Coral Coast is an incredibly special experience worth exploring
Home to some of the world’s most important turtle breeding grounds, Australia’s Coral Coast is the perfect destination to bear witness to one of natures true spectacles. From late October through to early April, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area and the Mackerel Islands of Australia’s Coral Coast transform into a hub for turtle breeding.
It’s important when planning a trip to visit the turtles of the Coral Coast, particularly during breeding season, that you educate yourself ahead of your holiday, on the ethical practices around turtle watching. To make things nice and easy, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions around turtle season in the Coral Coast so you can watch the breeding phenomena in an eco-friendly way and best protect them during this critical time.
If you’re keen to learn more, check out our Turtles of the Coral Coast page for more information.
For 12 months of the year, the Coral Coast (the Ningaloo region in particular), is well-known for its warm clear waters, so it’s no surprise that populations of loggerhead, green, hawksbill and flatback turtles, call the region home all year-round. When visiting the region, you can spot them popping their heads out of the water while on a wildlife cruise or marine safari in Shark Bay; snorkel with them through the crystal-clear waters of Ningaloo Reef where you can experience over 500 species of fish, 300 species of coral and a myriad of other marine life; and spot them on a self-guided turtle walk at the Mackerel Islands.
There are 3 stages of the turtle breeding cycle, starting with the mating period followed by the nesting cycle and lastly, the turtle hatching process. Each of the three stages of this process have a different set of guidelines giving you the best opportunity to watch the turtles without disturbing their activity. This is what’s known as the Turtle Watcher’s Code of Conduct, read on to find out more.
Turtle mating traditionally begins in late-October where they can be seen milling around in the shallows. The mating process is rather fascinating with the males courting a female by nuzzling her head or be gently biting the back of her neck or rear flippers to get her attention. Once this occurs, it’s up to the female, if she decides not to flee, the male attaches himself to the back of the female’s shell by gripping her top shell with his claws using his front flippers…the rest is history!
From December, you will begin to spot the females crawling from the ocean towards the nesting areas along the beach. This is where the females start digging their nests to lay their eggs, here you will see lots of sand being flicked into the air with the process potentially being repeated continuously until they find the correct spot. Once decided, the turtle remains very still as they begin to lay their eggs, taking only a quick 3 – 10 minutes on average. Next the turtles will cover the egg chamber with sand, doing their best to camouflage their nest before crawling back to the water’s edge to restore their energy. This is a critical time in the breeding process, read on for more information.
Hatching of the eggs occurs 60 days after the nesting process, much like the nesting process this is a critical time for the turtles so it’s important to give the hatchlings the right amount of space and to not interfere in any way. Hatchlings use what’s called a carbuncle (temporary egg tooth) to help break open the shell. After hatching, these young baby turtles may take up to 3 to 7 days to dig their way to the surface.
To protect our turtles and be able to witness their breeding cycle in an ethical way, the Turtle Watcher’s Code of Conduct was introduced. Each stage of the breeding cycle has a different level of risk to their disturbance so the code of conduct will guide you on how to get the best opportunity to watch turtles during breeding season without disturbing their activity. The most important things to remember is to “No Glow, Move Slow and Stay Low” and “Stop, Drop and Become a Rock”, you can find out more here.
There are three key areas within the Coral Coast that are ideal for witnessing turtle breeding season. The Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area being the first, recognised as one of the world’s most important nesting grounds for both green and loggerhead turtles. Key hot spots within the Ningaloo region include Quobba (Carnarvon), Maud’s Landing in Coral Bay and the Jurabi Coastal Reserves in Exmouth. Dirk Hartog Island is also home to Australia’s largest breeding colony of the endangered loggerhead turtles where they can be seen nesting from the Island’s Turtle Bay to Dampier’s landing. Lastly, the Mackerel Islands located off the north coast of Exmouth is another turtle hot spot.
If you want the best opportunity to watch, swim or educate yourself on Turtles of the Coral Coast, then jump on a local tour with one of our incredible operators:
Depending on your itinerary and how long you have in the region, there are multiple options on places to stay in the Coral Coast for turtle season. You have the option of basing yourself anywhere along the Ningaloo coastline from Carnarvon through to Exmouth, alternatively base yourself in Shark Bay and day-trip out to Dirk Hartog and/or the Mackerel Islands. If you’re keen to make the most of the laid-back island life, book a stay from one of Dirk Hartog or Mackerel Island’s range of accommodation options from a Luxury Eco lodge to homestead camping, there’s something to suit every traveller.