Snorkelling with Turtles on Lady Elliot Island, GBF

As our pilot circled the small atoll of Lady Elliot Island in our Cessna Caravan, we strained to get a better view of the patch of vegetation in the middle of the endless blue of the ocean. Amid Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef,  it was easy to spot the ‘halo’ of fringing reef which surrounds the island, before long we’d be snorkelling over the drop-off and between the isolated outcrops dotted over the sandy seafloor.

Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-46 lady_elliot

Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island is known locally as the home of the manta ray, because they are relatively common, and visit all year round. This is due to it being a huge cleaning station, many smaller fish tending to their larger brethren at various, smaller ‘stations’ all around the island.

Seeing a manta ray gracefully ‘flying’ through the water is one of diving most exciting experiences, and I was certainly excited at the prospect of this. Though hanging with equally graceful, and enigmatic turtles seemed just as appealing, everybody seemed keen to get wet.

Shoaling and circling fish Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-15 balling_fish

Tightly circling fish

After short safety, and orientation briefings we were wading out to the glass-bottomed boat that would take us out over the drop-off, and provide a glimpse of life beneath the waves. There was an enormous variety of healthy corals, brains, table tops, antlers, and fans, which was only surpassed by the numerous species of fish that teemed over the reef. There were also hundreds of soft, elongated shapes lying on the sea floor, types of sea cucumber, but watching through the glass was merely fuelling my eagerness to get into the water.

Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long, the boat anchored and a dozen or more excited swimmers, fitted fins, spat into masks and jumped in eager to at last explore the Great Barrier Reef for ourselves.

Cleaner wrasse, Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-21 cleaner_wrasse

Spring reef cleaning

Parrotfish, Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-12 parrotfish

The weird parrotfish

Vibrantly coloured fish darted, hid, searched for food, and fed among the brittle, razor-sharp branches of the corals. The were brilliant blues, iridescent yellows, and oranges, dainty damsels, elegant angels, and strange looking parrotfish. They ranged in size from tiny banded clownfish, hiding among the protective arms of anemones to regal groupers, several feet in length, hanging, as if suspended in the water, waiting for cleaner fish to finish their maintenance tasks.

Coral lagoon at Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-23 great_barrier_reef

Upstairs, downstairs

At one point there was a large shoal of circling fish, tightly packed like the bait balls often seen on natural history programmes, but there did not currently seem any predators for these particular big fish near a small atoll. Eventually they broke off from their circling and streamed across the open sand, still tightly packed, so it did seem a defensive strategy.

Branch coral at Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-25 branch_coral

Hide and seek in the branch coral

The time in the water was all too short however, we were soon back aboard the boat and heading back to shore. There hadn’t been any manta rays, and I was one of the few aboard that hadn’t seen a turtle.

Determined to see at least one of the reefs iconic creatures, once ashore, I grabbed my fins and mask and entered the water once again. There were plenty more fish encounters, including another huge grouper and a tiny box-shaped puffer fish. However, mantas and turtles were conspicuous by their absence, maybe today wasn’t to be my day. Eventually with skin wrinkled like a prune, it was time to head ashore once more.

Grouper, Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-19 reef_grouper

Grouper waiting for cleaning

Grouper, Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-14 grouper

Prowling grouper

After a hastily grabbed lunch, my stubbornness kicked in again, and soon I was getting wet once more. This time, as tide was on the rise, the lagoon on the other side seemed likely to provide some success, if not for mantas, at least for turtles. However, it was not until just before we had to get ready to catch the flight back to the Gold Coast that I finally got to hang with a turtle.

Green turtle, Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-42 reef_turtle

Up close, and personal

Green turtle, Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300- green_turtle

Glider on the currents

I spent a magical few minutes swimming within touching distance of the graceful creature, absolutely enthralled, as it glided above the coral reef. It seemed to fly in the channels between the plateaus of coral, riding the currents of the shallow, warm water in the lagoon. The turtle did not seem distressed by my close attendance. However, after several minutes it seemed fair to leave it in peace, grateful for it’s patience, and that my persistence had eventually been fruitful.

It was a happy mixed band that flew back to the Gold Coast airport sometime later, but one, sat in the front seat wore a particularly large, cheesy grin.

Green turtle, Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-43 green_turtle

Bye bye

*This trip was organised by Lady Elliot Island SeaAir

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3 Responses to “Snorkelling with Turtles on Lady Elliot Island, GBF”

  1. Emma May 14, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    I never made it to Lady Elliot Island yet that is, there is something about being under the sea and being among the reefs that makes me feel at home. My new home for now is in the Riviera Maya and I am in ore of the amazing marine life here on the second longest reef in the world, of course Oz is number one and always will be… http://www.cancunsnorkelingadventure.com/snorkeling-in-the-riviera-maya/
    Emma recently posted..Snorkeling in the Riviera Maya

  2. Elaine May 1, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    I got to swim in the presence of several sea turtles on a snorkel trip off Borneo a couple years ago … just magical! Hope your experience was the same Iain…!
    Elaine recently posted..Top Destinations In Papua New Guinea

  3. noel April 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Looks like fun being underwater and capturing nature at it’s best – although underwater photography is tough to do for me.
    noel recently posted..Road trip to Big Sur, Travel Photo Mondays #42

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Snorkelling with Turtles on Lady Elliot Island, GBF