An image of a woman floating in reef waters with sea turtles has been quickly removed by Australia’s main tourism board following an online backlash.
It showed the woman in a black swimsuit floating with about 30 protected sea turtles in Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef after it was uploaded last week.
But the stunning photo was removed from Tourism Australia’s social media after criticism that the ‘mating turtles’ should be left alone.
The post was deleted five days after it was flooded with 700 comments, Yahoo News Australia said.
Wildlife advocates and photographers called on Tourism Australia to encourage travelers to approach vulnerable species such as sea turtles.
The social media post showed the woman in a black swimsuit posing with about 30 protected sea turtles at Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef and was uploaded last week by Tourism Australia
Wildlife advocates and photographers urged Tourism Australia not to encourage travelers to approach vulnerable species such as sea turtles (photo: A sea turtle off Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia)
“Why a government tourism agency would post a photo like this is beyond me,” said one commenter.
“We trust the government to protect wildlife and then they post a photo like that.”
But the image inspired others to visit the idyllic spot.
“Can we go here together,” one of them said as they tagged a travel buddy.
The bird’s eye view showed the woman lying on her back in shallow crystal blue water surrounded by turtles near a pristine sandy beach.
It was originally created and posted last November by the social media account Frame Chasers.
The photo was taken at the same time as the tortoises’ mating season.
The Tourism Australia caption said the Frame Chasers were ‘lucky enough to witness a turtle feast’ while visiting Exmouth.
These majestic marine creatures can be seen all year round in this part of @westernaustralia, but you can witness them hatching and nesting on a visit between November and March.
“We recommend booking a guided turtle viewing experience.”
But some pointed out that the turtles were most likely gathering to mate in the photo and urged not to encourage tourists to get closer to them at that time.
USC marine scientist and doctoral student Caitlin Smith said a series of male and female turtles could be seen in the photo, suggesting they were breeding.
She said turtles can be very stressed during the season and advised swimmers not to go near turtles while they are mating.
‘Sea turtles are susceptible to disturbance during the mating season,’ said DBCA Marine Program Coordinator, Exmouth, Peter Barnes (pictured)
While the reptiles in the photo didn’t seem distressed, she was worried the image might lead others to take a selfie with the endangered species.
But she praised Tourism Australia for recommending tourists use tours in her post.
The WA Department of Biodiversity and Conservation’s code of conduct for turtle guards said there are strict rules that protect turtles when mating.
“Sea turtles are susceptible to disturbance during the mating season,” said Peter Barnes, DBCA Marine Program Coordinator, Exmouth.
“Anyone who encounters this natural phenomenon in the water should move away and watch from a practical distance so as not to disturb the animals.”
He added that there are signs at several stops along the Jurabi coast in the area where the photo was taken.
Wildlife biologist Ellie Sursara (pictured) said disturbing turtle nesting and breeding grounds, even for just a photo, could discourage turtles from mating and laying eggs
Ms Sursara added that the photo pushes the boundaries of Western Australia’s code of conduct for turtle tourism and Tourism Australia’s commitment to responsible travel (photo: a turtle at Ningaloo Reef)
Wildlife biologist Ellie Sursara said disturbing turtle nesting and breeding grounds, even just for a photo, could discourage turtles from mating and laying eggs.
The enthusiastic photographer said it was important to keep a safe distance from wild animals.
“Knowing the rules helps me deal with wildlife safely, responsibly and legally,” she said.
She added that the photo pushes the boundaries of Western Australia’s code of conduct for turtle tourism and Tourism Australia’s commitment to responsible travel.
Daily Mail Australia does not suggest that Frame Chasers acted illegally or irresponsibly.
Frame Chasers and Tourism Australia have been contacted by Daily Mail Australia for comment.
Code of Practice for Turtle Watchers in Western Australia
There are three main stages in the sea turtle reproductive process: mating, nesting, and hatching.
Guided turtle tours are recommended for those who want to see nesting sea turtles.
Keep to the recommended distance advised in the Code of Conduct.
Dogs should be kept away from turtle beaches.
Do not touch or disturb resting, sleeping or mating turtles.
Making unnecessary contact with turtles is a criminal offence.
Litter can harm all marine life, including turtles.
Regulations prohibit vessels from discharging waste, including garbage or sewage, into a marine park.
Source: Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions.
WHAT THE SHELL? SEA TURTLE FUN FACTS:
- Six of the seven sea turtle species inhabit Australian waters
- They are part of a group of reptiles that have been around for over 100 million years
- The largest and heaviest turtle ever recorded was 914 kg and nearly 9 feet long
- Turtles have great cultural significance to many indigenous cultures
- They maintain the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs – commercially benefiting valuable species such as shrimp, lobster and tuna
- Turtles use the Earth’s magnetic field as a global GPS, calculating both their latitude and longitude to point in the right direction