Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Lady Elliot Island Part III - Turtles & Snorkelling

Greg Turtle
The birdlife on Lady Elliot Island was superb (see here for a post on terns and here for a post on birds other than terns) but other wildlife did not disappoint.

Turtle leaves beach trail
The island is a major breeding ground for Green Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles and our stay coincided with the nesting season. The first turtles emerge as darkness falls, leaving a distinctive trail in the sand as they haul themselves up the beach to find a place to lay their eggs.

Green Turtle digging nesting chamber
During a couple of excursions in the vicinity of the resort and airfield I found four Green Turtles in various places laboriously digging large holes in the sand in which to lay their eggs. Each Green Turtle comes ashore to nest only every 5-7 years and they are not sexually mature until they are 30-40 years old.

Green Turtle
Often a turtle expends considerable energy digging a hole before deciding it is not suitable for some reason - it then calls it quits and returns to the sea, presumably to try again another time.

Green Turtle laying eggs
One of these turtles was found laying eggs right in front of the resort. About 70 eggs were laid over a period of about 30 minutes. The turtle then covered them with sand and returned to the water. This turtle can expect to lay several clutches during the nesting season.

Snorkelling on Lady Elliot Island
Snorkelling the coral reefs around Lady Elliot Island is exhilarating. It is possible to walk a few metres from your accommodation around high tide to snorkel in the island's shallow lagoon. The best snorkelling, however, is a 5-10 minute walk from the resort to the island's southern shore at the Coral Gardens, or at the Lighthouse. The reef edge is a short distance offshore with a spectacular variety of fish, turtles and corals on offer, but be wary of venturing too far out due to strong currents.

Green Turtle feeding on jellyfish
I saw numerous turtles during my twice daily snorkelling excursions. The Green Turtle in the images above is feeding on a jellyfish. The turtles are fearless of people and it is possible to follow and watch them at close quarters.

Green Turtle

Manta Ray
One of the specialties of Lady Elliot Island - and the island resort's logo - is the Manta Ray. As many as 300 of these magnificent rays frequent island waters at certain times - a substantial proportion of the entire Great Barrier Reef population of the species.

Manta Ray
I saw several Manta Rays while snorkelling off the reef edge; the one in these images had been tagged by research scientists. These are big fish and the initial contact can be a tad scary as this huge black creature appears seemingly out of nowhere.

Manta Ray
The rays are extremely graceful in their movements.

Bird Wrasse
It was a challenge to identify some of the many fish frequenting the reef. I'm grateful to Chris Gurraway, a resort staffer and diver, for the lend of his underwater camera to capture a few images. The fish above is a male Bird Wrasse. The male is much more colourful than the female: I was unaware that some fish were sexually dimorphic.

Blackspot Damselfish
This damselfish is large and secretive, preferring to hide under reef outcrops.

Brown Sweetlip
Brown Sweetlip are large, formidable-looking fish.

Clams of various shapes and sizes are frequently encountered while snorkelling.

Coral outcrop
Hard, colourful corals in excellent condition fringe Lady Elliot Island in a broad band.

Leopard Shark
I was pleased to encounter this large Leopard Shark patrolling the reef seabed.

Lined Surgeonfish
Many reef fish are brightly coloured.

Picasso Triggerfish
Some, such as this triggerfish, have the slightly unnerving habit of nibbling snorkellers.

Rainford's Butterflyfish
Three-spot Cardinalfish

Lined Butterflyfish

Saddled Parrotfish

Scissor-tailed Sergeant
These small black-and-white sergeant fish were inquisitive and endearing.

Scissor-tailed Sergeant

Blue Linkia Starfish
Starfish of various colours and shapes are common on the reef bed.

Coral spawn
From the air as we approached and departed the island, extensive brown plumes of Trichodesmium, also called sea sawdustcould be seen in the sea. 


  1. And I was thinking you knew about only birds! Love the one of you snorkeling Greg .. it's like your trying to be a turtle. LOL. Lovely photos and Lady Elliot sounds one top spot to visit.

  2. Excellent photos! Trying my best at fish ID has become one of my favourite outdoor pursuits - hopefully I'll get to try it in those beautiful waters sometime! That's a great underwater camera you borrowed - my little Canon makes all the colours extra green/blue but maybe I need to tinker with the settings.

    1. Thanks Christian. Still have problems with too much ultraviolet, apparently.

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