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Best Practice for Turtle Watching

The turtle watchers code of conduct provides guidelines for best practice when observing turtles on the beach. The guidlines are developed from an understanding of their senses, as we can use the information to modify our behaviour to allow us to watch the nesting process without interrupting or disturbing the females.

A turtles sight is partially limited by their carapace, or their shell,  creating quite large blind spots. Whilst their eyesight is well developed under the water, they are vision is not as sharp on land. They can easily make out shapes however and do not like big looming figures standing over them. Which is why we take advantage of their blind spots and stay low to the ground, behind the turtles. They are very sensitive to light and for this reason there are strictly no torches or flash photopgraphy allowed on the beach during the turtle season.

Sea turtles have eardrums which are covered by skin. They have a small number of bones in their ear and because they are covered by skin, are not terribly sensitive to sound out of water. They can however sense vibrations. So we use quiet voices and dont run or stomp around!

In the water, a turtles sense of smell is reasonably well developed to allow them to locate food in murky water. Turtles will open their mouths slightly and draw in water through their nose, immediately emptying it through the mouth. These pulsating movements are thought to be assocated with smelling. Out of the water turtles have been found to be sensitive to the scent of insect repellant, cigarette smoke and heavy perfume. Therefore we ask you to refrain from these when on the beach watching turtles.

We do not touch the turtles as they are very sensitive to touch on their flippers and even on their shell.

Depending on the stage of nesting which a female is at, it is important to listen to the tour guide and remain a certain distance from the turtle. The vulnerability to disturbance varies depending on wether she is emerging from the sea, digging the body pit, excavating the egg chamber, laying her eggs, covering and camoflaging or returning to the ocean. At some points you may be required to "commando crawl" in order to approach a nesting turtle!

All of the above information is set out in our Turtle Watchers Code of Conduct which can be found here on our website, on our Facebook Page, at the Court House Gallery as well as at the Interactive Center at Cemetery Beach.