Things you need to know about seeing marine turtles in Exmouth
Cover photo: New born turtle resting on a rock.
Did you know that there are just seven species of marine turtles in the world? And you can see four of them right here in Western Australia. The Exmouth region is home to hawksbill, loggerhead, flatback and green turtles. While most people know the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef as an area of outstanding natural beauty, Ningaloo is also one of the most important breeding grounds in the world for loggerhead and green turtles. We cannot overstate how significant the region is for the planet’s sea turtle population.
If you are an ocean lover, we imagine swimming with turtles in the wild is probably pretty high on your bucket list – or just spotting them in their natural habitat if you’d prefer not to get wet. While Costa Rica, the Maldives and Borneo are popular destinations to enjoy this unique once-in-a-lifetime experience, you don’t have to leave Australia to see and swim with sea turtles. You could head to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland or the Cook Island Marine Reserve in New South Wales. But why do that when one of the best places in the world to spot turtles is right here on the Coral Coast?
The warm and protected waters of the Ningaloo Reef are the ideal habitat for marine turtles. It’s a thrilling experience to see these majestic animals in the wild, whether you book a seat on a glass-bottomed boat tour or grab your snorkel and dive into the crystal-clear waters of the reef. You will be able to see juvenile turtles swimming in the reef’s shallow lagoons all year long. But if you want to try and catch a glimpse of nesting turtles, visit Exmouth between November and March. Many of the beaches south of Vlamingh Head Lighthouse are known to be prime nesting spots.
Sadly, most species of sea turtles are either vulnerable or endangered due to their numbers having fallen drastically in recent years. So, we are lucky here in Exmouth to experience sensibly distanced close encounters with these gentle creatures – both in the ocean and on the land.
For a unique Exmouth experience, join one of the Jurabi Turtle Centre’s night-time turtle-watching tours. Watching female turtles slowly crawl from the ocean up the beach to lay their eggs is a magical sight that will stay with you forever. And then, approximately two months later, the hatchlings emerge and make a break for the sea. Tours run from December to March and last between three to four hours. The Ningaloo Visitor Centre – just a short walk from the Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Resort – will have up-to-date prices and tour dates. The Visitor Centre is the go-to place for all the information you need to get the best out of your Exmouth and Ningaloo holiday.
If you want to learn more about sea turtles, their ancient roots, and why they are so vital to the health of our beautiful oceans, make sure a visit to the Jurabi Turtle Centre is on your Exmouth must-do list. Open all year, it’s a fun activity the whole family can enjoy – and best of all, admission is free. You’ll find the centre on Yardie Creek Road. Similarly, the Ningaloo Aquarium and Discovery Centre will enhance your Ningaloo Reef experience. Right next door to the Visitor Centre, it is home to a stunning 55,000-litre tank which showcases some of the Ningaloo Reef’s incredible marine life. A visit to this immersive and educational experience has been one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions since opening in 2018. It’s a great activity for a rainy day or if you want to learn more about the underwater world of Ningaloo without getting your feet wet!
10 turtley-terrific facts about sea turtles
- Life is dangerous for sea turtles from the moment they are born. They are at the mercy of birds, lizards, crabs, and other predators. In fact, an Australian study showed that 97% of green turtle hatchlings were eaten within an hour of entering the water. For every 1,000 hatchlings, according to estimates, only one makes it to adulthood.
- Adult sea turtles face fewer predators compared to hatchlings and juveniles. But they are a favourite snack for sea predators like great whites and tiger sharks. Fishing nets and marine plastics are another threat to sea turtles.
- Sea turtles have played a vital role in helping to keep the world’s oceans healthy for millions of years, including being an integral part of maintaining the health of coral reefs and sea beds by eating seagrasses. We need them to keep the oceans, and in turn the planet, healthy.
- Outside of Australia, you can swim with sea turtles in US states like Hawaii and the Florida Keys, Jamaica, Oman, Costa Rica, Mexico, Barbados, Indonesia, and Greece.
- Sea turtles have existed for well over 100 million years. That’s right; they have outlived the dinosaurs, who went extinct approximately 65 million years ago. Seven species of marine turtles are recognised today: green, flatback, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley and Olive ridley.
- Kemp’s ridley is the smallest of the species. They can weigh up to 40 kg and come in at around 70 cm in length. On the opposite end of the scale, the leatherback turtle can weigh as much as 500 kg and be as long as 180 cm.
- Pregnant females lay their eggs on the very same beach they were hatched on. This is because they have a built-in navigational system.
- On land, turtles move very slowly. As slow as tortoises, in fact. But it’s a different story in the water. Leatherback turtles can reach speeds of up to 35 km per hour!
- Sea turtles love to feast on jellyfish. But this is also a problem for them when they mistake plastic bags in the ocean for their favourite snack. Consuming ocean plastics is extremely dangerous for turtles and can rupture their internal organs or lead to intestinal blockages.
- There are numerous ways to distinguish one turtle species from another, such as their shape, colour, and their shell. It is also possible to tell individual turtles apart due to the scale pattern on a turtle’s face. It’s as unique to them as a human fingerprint is to us.
Things to note when you are around sea turtles
- Do not use a flashlight or shine a light in the sea turtle’s face. The light may cause the female to abort the nesting process, or other sea turtles nearby may be discouraged from nesting if there are lights on the beach.
- Do not take pictures using flashes. This high-intensity light can be even more disturbing than the flashlights.
- stay away from the turtle’s head. Sea turtles have very strong jaws and can harm you if provoked.
- Do not handle the eggs or put any foreign objects into the nest. You can introduce bacteria or injure the eggs.
- Do not handle or ride the sea turtle. In addition to being illegal, you may injure the turtle or cause them to leave without finishing nesting.
- Do not disturb tracks left by turtles. Researchers sometimes use the tracks to identify the type of turtles that nested and to find and mark the nests.
- If you see injured sea turtles do not try and help them yourselves. Contact Parks and Wildlife’s 24 hour Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055.
- Enjoy the experience, and remember it for the rest of your life.
Our incredible wildlife is a big attraction, but there are many reasons why people fall in love with our beautiful coastal town. In fact, Exmouth currently holds the title of Western Australia’s Top Small Tourism Town. And we were recognised as Australia’s Top Small Tourism Town the previous year. From our pristine white sand beaches to world-class snorkelling spots, we are truly blessed to call this magical part of WA home.
We’d love you to come and visit so we can share it with you, too! A whole host of unforgettable experiences are right here waiting for you. If you do need some more inspiration to book that trip, read our recommendations for the best things to see and do in Exmouth and Ningaloo.