Where to see turtles on the Southern Great Barrier Reef
The Southern Great Barrier Reef is home to some of the most unique, most beautiful and most diverse marine life in the world. Part of the largest living ecosystem on earth, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches almost the entire length of the Queensland coast. It’s also one of the best places in the world to see (and swim with) turtles in their natural habitat.
Visiting the Southern Great Barrier Reef to see turtles is an incredible way to experience more of this vast and diverse ecosystem. And with the help of some award-winning eco-friendly options, you can ensure your visit doesn’t impact this delicate environment.
A trip here is not complete without at least one turtle sighting, so here’s the best places to catch a glimpse of Australia’s unofficial marine mascot. BYO snorkels and a sense of eco-adventure.
Great Keppel Island
Part of the Capricorn Region, Great Keppel Island is the idyllic island getaway. Featuring no less than 17 immaculate beaches all boasting gentle breezes and calm waters, snorkelling, swimming and general beachside bliss are, frankly, effortless.
Great Keppel is part of a chain of sheltered islands along the Southern Great Barrier Reef considered some of the most important breeding rookeries for Flatback turtles in the region. Frequently sighted above and below the waters of Monkey Beach, grab your snorkel gear and keep your eyes peeled for these local superstars.
Daily cruises to the island depart across the Capricorn Coast which includes the chance to snorkel the fringing reefs—make it your mission to tick off some of those 17 beaches…
Boasting 20 world-famous dive locations all frequented by Australia’s Great 8, Heron Island is one of the only places to see turtles on the Southern Great Barrier Reef where you can walk straight from the beach to coral cay.
Both Green and Loggerhead turtle species call Heron Island home. If you’re visiting between November-March you’ll be lucky enough to see female Loggerheads return to the ocean after laying their eggs.
Heron Island’s magic forces you to connect with the surrounding landscape, where guests are encouraged to spend time at the island’s award-winning research centre to learn about the important conservation work being undertaken on the Great Barrier Reef.
Get to Heron Island on the Heron Islander just off the coast of Gladstone, where you can opt for a day trip or spend a few nights on the island. Get a taste or island life, or totally immerse yourself; the choice is yours.
Lady Musgrave Island
The largest coral cay in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Lady Musgrave Island has some of the clearest waters, whitest sand and, with over 1,000 hectares of fringing reef, the local Green and Loggerhead turtle contingency think it’s pretty great, too. Frequenting the island’s sandy beaches and calm seas during mating and hatching season, snorkelling alongside a laid-back turtle is just another day here.
Lady Musgrave Island’s sheer size makes the island largely untouched. With limited but highly sought-after camping areas available (with a permit) you can live out your very own desert island fantasy.
Thinking of taking a day trip to Lady Musgrave? Jump on the Lady Musgrave Experience, one of the region’s highest awarded eco tour guides. You’ll have the opportunity to snorkel and dive amongst incredible coral bommies teaming with tropical life.
Lady Elliot Island
Remote, rugged, and totally off the grid: if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind turtle encounter, Lady Elliot Island is the place for a little face-to-face.
Lying 80kms off the coast of Bundaberg, Lady Elliot Island is one of the leading locations in the world for conservation governance, featuring an award-wining, 100% sustainable eco resort and research centre focused on ensuring the entire island, and its guests, do not negatively impact the delicate surrounding ecosystem.
The island is located in a Marine National Park and boast some of the highest-ranking diving sites in the world, so you’ll have plenty of chances to get up close with turtles, mantas, and the rest of the Great 8.
Located just fifteen minutes’ drive east of Bundaberg, the small coastal hamlet of Mon Repos has made a name for itself as a nature haven—especially for turtles. The Conservation Park, made famous by its 6km stretch of pristine sandy beach, is also home to the world-renowned turtle sanctuary, The Mon Repos Turtle Centre.
More than fifty percent of the Southern Hemisphere’s nesting Loggerhead turtles coming to Mon Repos to lay their eggs every year. Their tireless work is undertaken by the centre and local volunteers ensures the survival of these endangered animals.
Their work also goes beyond the centre. They encouraging visitors to participate in beach clean ups, conservation work in the field, even to join the team during hatchling season to watch newborn turtles make their way down to the shorefront under moonlight.