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Understanding Sea Turtles - Byron Bay Sea Turtle School

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Event description

Understanding Sea Turtles in Byron Bay

Byron Bay Sea Turtle School holds classes for the Northern Rivers community and our visitors on the basic ecology, biology and importance of the sea turtles commonly found in northern NSW. Our theory class teaches how to identify common species, spot turtle nesting tracks on our beaches and correctly use Photo-ID to help collect valuable data about our critically endangered turtles. Students can complement their theory during a snorkel or scuba dive at Nguthungulli Julian Rocks with Sundive Byron Bay. The open water experience allows for interactions with sea turtles in their natural environment, applying identification and Photo-ID techniques in one of Australia’s oldest (and most beautiful) marine protected areas. 

In Byron Bay we are very lucky to have sea turtles living in our coastal waters all year round. We see them when we visit Nguthungulli Julian Rocks (NJR), we see them when we are surfing and swimming around the headlands, and we see them close to shore when we walk along the beaches and coastal trails. We see them often, but what do we know about them? 

Did you know that the South Pacific Sub-population of Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the global population of Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles are listed as Critically Endangered, and Green (Chelonia mydas) turtles are listed as Endangered? Did you know that the Cape Byron Marine Park is a critical habitat for all three species, particularly for the loggerhead turtle?   

Some experts are concerned that the East Coast Australia sub-population of loggerhead turtles may be extinct in as little as 30 years from now. Ocean temperatures continue to increase and the comparatively cooler climate of northern NSW is quickly becoming recognised as a refuge for loggerheads. As a community, we cannot accept the risk of losing the loggerhead turtle when there is so much we can do to ensure its survival. Loggerheads (and all sea turtles) have been swimming in our waters and nesting on our beaches for over 100 million years. They outlived the dinosaurs and have traditionally been revered as "god-like" in many cultures worldwide, including here in the Bundjalung nation. 

In Byron Bay we have a chance to protect these iconic and beautiful creatures from extinction and ensure that they can continue their vital role in the marine ecosystem and our community's collective culture. To conserve sea turtles (or any animal), we first need to establish baseline data on the species. Although we frequently interact with our resident sea turtles, we have limited scientific data regarding their ecology here in the Northern Rivers. To accurately estimate the size, stability and migration patterns of a population, we need to identify individuals and regularly monitor them over time and space. To do this, we use Photo-ID, a non-invasive alternative to 'flipper tagging' that allows us to collect empirical data in a way that causes no harm to the animals. 

Course Structure

Module 1 - Understanding Sea Turtles in Byron Bay: Theory 

(Minimum age: 10 and up. 10 -17 years must be accompanied by an adult - Theory content ranges from primary to high school level and above)

Key Learning Objectives 

·     Introduction: Sea turtles in Byron Bay and why we should care

·     Explain the basic ecology & biology of sea turtles

·     Understand the techniques to correctly Identify the species of sea turtles commonly found in local waters and on our beaches

·     Describe the importance of sea turtles to marine ecosystems and the community

·     Outline the conservation status of sea turtles 

·     Explain the major threats contributing to declines in sea turtle populations

·     Identify common diseases and injuries of sea turtles

·     Taking action: Personal & community behaviours to make a difference

Module 2: Sea Turtle Identification: Open water experience

(Minimum age: 7 and up)

Key Learning Objectives

·     Identify the species of sea turtles commonly found at Nguthungulli Julian Rocks

·     Identify common behaviours of sea turtles

·     Participate in photo Identification of sea turtles  

Lesson Structure

Interactive verbal and visual presentation delivered by Joshua James (B.MarSc&Mgt, Byron Bay Sea Turtle School Instructor, Lecturer in Marine Studies @ LIU Global University, PADI Dive Instructor @ Sundive, Byron Bay)

Course Format & Costs

Module 1 : Sea Turtle Understanding: Theory Only 

1 hour theory class to achieve the key learning objectives. At the end of the session the students will complete a short quiz and be awarded a certificate of attainment from BBSTS.

Cost per student: $50  

10% of this fee will be donated to Australian Seabird & Turtle Rescue Ballina. 

Module 1 & 2: Sea Turtle Understanding and Sea Turtle Identification: Theory + Open Water Experience

Following the theory class the students will complement their learning with an open water experience at Nguthungulli Julian Rocks.

This open water experience will be provided as a snorkel or dive trip (for certified diver students) with Sundive Byron Bay. Our BBSTS instructor will be guiding the snorkel/dive trip and provide a dedicated briefing about how to identify the different species of sea turtles at Nguthungulli Julian Rocks and safety information relating to the boat trip and open water experience. Once in the water, the students will complete a turtle species identification exercise aided by a sea turtle and fish identification slate (provided during the briefing & which the students can keep). Learn how to identify common behaviours and participate in the photo Identification of sea turtles contributing to citizen science. After returning to Sundive there will be a short Q&A session and Photo-ID debrief. Upon completion the students will be awarded a certificate of attainment from BBSTS.  

Cost per student: $160 for Theory class + Snorkel experience - including gear hire.

Total time for the open water experience is approximately 3 hours (50 minutes in the water). 

10% of this fee will be donated to Australian Seabird & Turtle Rescue Ballina. 

Booking & Event Information


All of our snorkelling trips are weather dependent. Water visibility is impossible to predict and can vary between days as well as between dives. As snorkelling takes place on the surface, good conditions are necessary for safety. If trips are cancelled due to weather, please understand this is for safety reasons (yours and ours) and is outside of our control. If we cancel your trip for any reason including weather, you are entitled to a full refund or you can reschedule your booking. We know cancellations can be frustrating but please understand that the weather and sea conditions can be unpredictable and changeable and, are outside of our control.


Check-in for the Theory Class is from 1110-1120 for a 1130 start. Please see reception at YHA Cape Byron for access and directions to our classroom. Check in for the snorkelling trip is at 1315 at the Sundive shop on Middleton St. Estimated time of return is 1530.


We don't have customer parking at Sundive but there is metered street parking on Middleton Street. There is free parking outside of the metered zone (past the tennis courts) which is about a 10-15 minute walk away.

Medical Conditions, Age & Waivers: 

As our snorkelling trip is conducted by Sundive, all snorkellers are required to meet Sundive terms and conditions: 

Our snorkelling trips take place offshore at Nguthingulli Julian Rocks where there are no immediate medical facilities and strenuous exercise may be required. These trips are therefore unsuitable for anyone with any medical condition that requires a medical device such as a pacemaker, insulin-dependent diabetics, allergy sufferers that require an epi-pen and asthma sufferers who require an inhaler.

Snorkellers over 70 years of age require a doctor's medical performed within the last 12 months incorporating clearance for snorkelling but also including strenuous activity. This must be sent to Sundive before the day of your trip.

If you are unable to agree to the terms and conditions of any Sundive waiver due to a previous or existing medical issue, we will require a recreational SPUMS (South Pacific Underwater Medical Society) diving medical to take you diving or snorkelling, this can be acquired at the Bay Medical Centre. Please familiarise yourself with the waiver if you are unsure before making your booking: Diving Waiver 

Fitness level & Launch Safety:  

Our boats launch directly through the surf which at times can be time sensitive with water and waves. Our staff will help as much as possible if required but, for the safety of our staff and guests, we require our guests to be able-bodied for the launch, be able to react quickly and, have the physical strength, ability and fitness to jump on the boat and, pull themselves up the ladder after the dive.

Swimming ability: 

All our activities take place in an open ocean environment and conditions can be choppy. Guests for any activity, including snorkelling and introductory dives, need to be strong swimmers capable of swimming at least 200m unassisted with no floatation device. If you or any guest are not a strong swimmer, our experiences are not suitable for you.


Snorkelling whilst pregnant is not permitted in the third trimester of pregnancy. Due to the dynamic environmental conditions and sometimes physically challenging and demanding launch, we highly recommend that our snorkelling trip is avoided in all stages of pregnancy.


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Refund policy

Refunds are available up to 7 days prior to the event