Western Australia's Coral Coast is home to some of the world's most important turtle nesting areas.
Sea turtles can be encountered on the Coral Coast all year round. Incredible experiences include snorkelling with turtles through the beautiful coral gardens of the Ningaloo Marine Park, seeing them pop their heads up out of the water on a wildlife cruise in the Shark Bay Marine Park, or watching them nesting and hatching on a night tour at the Jurabi Turtle Centre in Cape Range National Park.
The loggerhead turtle is the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world and you can find some of their major breeding sites in the Coral Coast: the Turtle Bay area of northern Dirk Hartog Island in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, and the Muiron Islands off Exmouth.
The Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay regions are also important turtle nesting sites for green, hawksbill and flatback turtles, and support large populations of these species - Shark Bay alone has up to 6,000 sea turtles living in its waters!
Turtle mating, nesting and hatching seasons are critical times for these endangered species, and humans can risk negatively interfering with their natural behaviours if we're not careful. Please read the turtle watcher's code of conduct before heading to the beaches to interact with marine turtles.
Turtle Mating Season
Turtles can generally be seen mating off the coast of Ningaloo from October onwards, and off of Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay from December onwards. It's important not to disturb mating turtles, including not swimming, snorkelling, boating or kayaking near them.
Turtle Nesting + Hatching Seasons
The nesting season typically occurs from late-November to March, when green and loggerhead turtles make their way up the beaches to lay their eggs. Then, after a 60-day period, hatching occurs! Turtle hatchlings can generally be seen from February to April.
If you would like to view nesting or hatching marine turtles it is recommended that you visit the Jurabi Turtle Centre to join a Turtle Eco-Education Tour. These night tours provide the opportunity to watch the turtles make their long, arduous journey up the beaches to lay their eggs or to watch hatchlings scrambling their way to the water's edge.
By participating in a dedicated turtle tour, you are actively helping to conserve marine turtles and will have a better opportunity to view marine turtles nesting in their natural environment.
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 and Wobiri Beach
The Ningaloo Turtle Program is a community volunteer conservation project established by Parks and Wildlife, the Cape Conservation Group and WWF Australia. The program is responsible for collecting valuable information on turtle species, nests, tracks, disturbance and predation during nesting season. This information helps to educate the public and scientists alike, and ensures the ongoing protection of these ancient mariners.
Visit the Ningaloo Turtle Program website for more details and to learn about tours and programs you can be part of.
Turtle Watcher's Code of Conduct
Please ensure you read the Turtle Watcher's Code of Conduct before heading to the beaches to interact with marine turtles. We highly recommend booking a night tour with the Jurabi Turtle Centre for the best experience, and to ensure interact with the turtles in a safe and sustainable way.
'No Glow, Move Slow and Stay Low'. Flash 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, as to avoid disturbing their 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 jeopardise the egg laying and hatching processes.
Stay still and at least 15 metres away from the turtle until she is returning to the ocean, when you can approach to 2 metres.
- 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 movements 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're 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 eggs before moving closer. She will be quite still when laying her eggs - if sand is spraying or she is using her flippers, she's not yet laying.
- Give her enough space to camouflage her 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.
It is extremely important that hatchlings are not handled or interfered with in any way during their hatching period. 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 - 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
More information on the Turtle Watcher's Code of Conduct can be found here.
Book a Turtle Tour with Jurabi Turtle Centre
From December to March, you can join a dedicated nighttime Turtle Eco-Education Tour to search for nesting and hatching turtles. Tours run for 3 to 4 hours, depending on turtle nesting activity, and include an educational presentation by trained staff on marine turtle biology, ecology, threats and conservation measures; and a guided interaction experience on a popular turtle rookery.
Bookings are essential. Contact the Ningaloo Visitor Centre for tour costs, availability and to book.
The Jurabi Turtle Centre itself is open year-round, for visitors to learn and discover more about sea turtles. Admission to the Centre is free.