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Turtle Tracks back to Bare Sand Island

Imagine a sunset adventure to a remote tropical island to experience nesting sea turtles.  A pristine island and wildlife experience, our Turtle Tracks adventure took us to remote Bare Sand Island for our turtle encounter.

Excitement was in the air as we headed out by fast boat to Bynoe Harbour for our first encounter with Flatback turtles.  Bare Sand Island is an important Australian nesting ground for Flatback and Olive Ridley turtles.

We were keen to learn about the turtles, the unique war history and the stories of the Larrakia with the backdrop of one of those famous Top End sunsets.

The highlights of the Turtle Tracks Tour

  • A pristine island and wildlife experience
  • Releasing baby turtles into the open sea
  • Watching sea turtles lay eggs beneath the light of the silvery moon

The journey to Bare Sand Island

Turtle Tracks

It’s easy to lose yourself in thought as you skim across the crystal clear tropical waters of the Timor Sea and head past historic Charles Point into Bynoe Harbour.

A fast boat ride with Sea Darwin will have you arriving at remote Njulbitjlk, more commonly known as Bare Sand Island in time for a stunning Top End sunset.

Bare Sand Island is at the end of a chain of islands in northern Fog Bay, about 50 kilometres west of Darwin.

The island has very little vegetation and almost no shade however is important for nesting Flatback and Olive Ridley turtles.

Tours leave Stokes Hill Wharf in the centre of Darwin on pre-determined dates linked to the lunar cycle.  Visits are timed around full moon or new moon as the best time to see the turtles.

Nature dictates your experience and return time.  The nesting females usually come ashore around sunset but everything depends on the turtles.  Be flexible to get the most out of your experience.

The journey takes about an hour and a half from Darwin city by fast boat to Bare Sand Island.  Cruise price includes dinner and a guided tour through the rookery.

Find out more about the Turtle Tracks tour on the Sea Darwin website.

Bare Sand Island

The Kenbi people

Turtle Tracks is an example of tourism and economic development taking place on Aboriginal land, working respectfully with Traditional Aboriginal Owners.

Sea Darwin works in partnership the Kenbi people to provide access this pristine area in an environmentally sustainable way.

The Turtle nursery

Bucket full of baby turtles

Once on the beach, we headed up into the sand dunes where the AusTurtle research team had a ‘bucket’ of baby turtles to show us.

These baby turtles had been trapped in their nests overnight and would normally perish.  Each morning the researches check the hatched nests and rescue any of the trapped babies so that they can be released on the next tide.  Human intervention is their only chance of survival.

Turtle hatchlings

We were able to hold the hatchlings and with many ooo’s and ahhh’s we learned that we would be releasing 7 little hatchlings into the sea later that night.  Exciting!

Essential Camera Accessories for your Sony a6000

Nesting turtles

Turtles coming to nest

During nesting season, female turtles come out of the ocean to dig a nest above the high-tide line.  As the turtles were crawling up the beach, we held back, remaining still.  Turtles have poor eyesight but any movement may have signalled possible danger and have her turn back to the sea.

Flatback sea turtles begin nesting around 34 years of age, and will nest every two to three years returning to the same beach each time.  Females are able to lay up to four times throughout the nesting season with intervals between nesting around 13–18 days.

The nesting process was a very surreal experience with mother clearly under exertion as she dug her nest and lay her clutch of eggs.  She seemed oblivious to our group standing closely behind her nest.

Nesting turtles

While using her front flippers to dig, the turtle cleared away the dry sand before starting to dig the egg chamber using her back flippers.  Flatback turtles lay an average of 50 eggs each time in a clutch.

Nesting turtles

Once her eggs were laid, she covered the nest again using her back flippers, while also tossing sand backwards with her front flippers.  Once the nest is covered she turned and headed back to the ocean.

The sex of the Flatback turtle hatchling is determined by the temperature of the sand.  Below 29 °C (84 °F), the hatchling will be a male, and above this 29 °C it will be female.

Accredited Team Turtle guides

Turtle Tracks

Turtle viewing on this tour is guided. Guides are trained and permits in accordance with Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory’s Marine Turtle Watching Policy.

With marine science backgrounds and a passion for sea turtles, the Sea Darwin Turtle guides provide expert knowledge about the Flatback and Olive Ridley turtles.

Team Turtle guide you through the egg laying ritual, answering questions and providing information on these incredible turtles.  Depending on the timing of your visit, you may also witness the baby turtles bursting out from the warm sandy nest to head towards the ocean.

Sunset with Turtle Tracks
Another gorgeous Top End sun set, standing alongside the freshly made turtle tracks

Fun Flatback Facts

Nesting turtles

The Flatback turtle is named after its flat carapace, or shell.  The carapace is pale greyish-green in colour with the outer margins distinctly upturned.  An adult flatback weighs 200 pounds and is approximately 3 feet in length.

They breed and nest only in Australia.

  • Flatback turtles lay an average of 50 eggs per nest.
  • Male hatchlings have green eyes whilst females have blue eyes.
  • The Flatback is an omnivore, feeding on a variety of prey including sea cucumbers, jellies, soft corals, shrimp, crabs, molluscs, fish, and seaweed.
  • Flatback turtles are listed as Vulnerable under the Australian Commonwealth’s Endangered Species Protection Act.
  • Their scientific name is Natator depressus

Flatbacks are preyed upon by Saltwater crocodiles, with females often attacked by crocs while attempting to nest.  Nests and hatchlings are sometimes preyed upon by the Sand Monitor lizards, birds, and feral pigs. In some areas, feral pigs consume almost all their nests.

Research and Volunteer opportunities

Bare Sand Island turtle hatchery

Research on the Flatback sea turtles has been running since 1996.  During the nesting months researchers gather data by measuring and tagging the nesting turtles.

There are opportunities for volunteers to join the research team to gather data and monitor the turtles.    Read more about Volunteer opportunities here.

Nesting turtles

Each night when a turtle comes up to nest, she is measured and checked for markings.  Tags are checked and recorded and logged into the database by the research and volunteer team.

3 Essential Items to take on your trip to Bare Sand Island

  1. A Good Camera: There will be plenty of great photo moments so bring along a good camera, especially one that responds well to low light conditions.  I highly recommend the Sony a6000.  Most of these photos were taken with my Sony a6000.
  2. Beach Shoes:  The outdoor lifestyle in Australia means you will need specially designed beach shoes (commonly called thongs)!  Be comfortable, and treat yourself to a pair here.  Perfect for long beach walks.
  3. A Stainless Steel Water Bottle:  Stay hydrated.  Get yourself a Yeti stainless water bottle and refill as you go.

Are you staying longer in the Northern Territory?

Here’s some other nature and wildlife experiences you may find interesting.

Pin this Turtle Tracks encounter. 

Turtle Tracks

The timing of your turtle watching adventure and boat ride back to Darwin, is entirely up to the turtles!

Visiting this turtle rookery and watching the turtles come out to nest on this remote and beautiful island has been one of my favourite moments in time.

Whatever the turtle timing is, it is without question one of the most remarkable tours I have experienced.   Memories to last a lifetime.