An image of a woman floating in reef waters with sea turtles has been quickly deleted by Australia’s main tourist body after an online backlash.
It showed the woman in a black swimsuit floating with about 30 protected marine turtles in Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia after it was uploaded last week.
But the stunning photo was deleted from Tourism Australia’s social media after it faced backlash from critics saying the ‘mating turtles’ should be left alone.
The post was taken down five days after it was flooded with 700 comments, Yahoo News Australia said.
Wildlife advocates and photographers called out Tourism Australia for encouraging travellers to approach vulnerable species like sea turtles.
The social media post showed the woman in a black swimsuit posing with about 30 protected marine turtles in Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and was uploaded by Tourism Australia last week
Wildlife advocates and photographers urged Tourism Australia to not encourage travellers to approach vulnerable species like sea turtles (pictured, a sea turtle at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia)
‘Why a government tourism agency would post a photo like this is beyond me,’ said one commenter.
‘We are trusting the government to protect wildlife and then they post a photo like this.’
But the image inspired others to visit the idyllic place.
‘Can we go here together’, commented one as they tagged a travel buddy.
The bird’s-eye-view image showed the woman lying on her back in shallow crystal blue waters surrounded by turtles near a pristine sandy shoreline.
It was originally taken and posted last November by social media account Frame Chasers.
The photo was taken at the same time as the turtles’ mating season.
Tourism Australia’s caption said the Frame Chasers were ‘lucky enough to witness a turtle party’ on a visit to Exmouth.
‘These majestic sea creatures can be seen in this part of @westernaustralia year- round, but a visit between November and March will allow you to witness hatching and nesting,’ it read.
‘We recommend booking a guiding turtle viewing experience.’
But some pointed out the turtles were most likely gathering to mate in the picture and urged against encouraging tourists to get closer to them at that time.
USC marine scientist and PhD candidate Caitlin Smith said there were a range of male and female turtles in the picture which suggested they were breeding.
She said turtles can be very stressed during the season and advised swimmers to not go near turtles while they are mating.
‘Sea turtles are susceptible to being disturbed during mating season,’ DBCA Marine Program Coordinator, Exmouth, Peter Barnes (pictured) said
While the reptiles did not appear to be distressed in the photo, she was worried the image may lead others to try and get a selfie with the endangered species.
But she praised Tourism Australia for recommending tourists use guided tour options in its post.
The WA Department of Biodiversity and Conservation turtle watcher’s code of conduct said there are strict rules that protect turtles while they are mating.
‘Sea turtles are susceptible to being disturbed during mating season,’ Peter Barnes, DBCA Marine Program Coordinator, Exmouth, said.
‘Anyone who encounters this natural phenomenon while in the water, should move away and watch from a practical distance to not disturb the animals.’
He added there are signs at various stops along the Jurabi Coast in the area where the photo was taken.
Wildlife biologist Ellie Sursara (pictured) said disrupting turtle nesting and breeding sites even just for a photo could discourage turtles from mating, laying eggs
Ms Sursara added the photo pushes the boundaries of Western Australia’s code of conduct for turtle tourists and Tourism Australia’s commitment to responsible travelling (pictured, a turtle at Ningaloo Reef)
Wildlife biologist Ellie Sursara said disrupting turtle nesting and breeding sites even just for a photo could discourage turtles from mating and laying eggs.
The keen photographer said it was important to maintain a safe distance from where wild animals are.
‘Knowing the rules is what helps me to engage safely, responsibly, and legally with wildlife,’ she said.
She added the photo pushes the boundaries of Western Australia’s code of conduct for turtle tourists and Tourism Australia’s commitment to responsible travelling.
Daily Mail Australia does not suggest Frame Chasers acted illegally or irresponsibly.
Frame Chasers and Tourism Australia were contacted by Daily Mail Australia for comment.
Turtle watchers’ code of conduct in Western Australia
There are three important stages in the reproductive process of marine turtles: mating, nesting and hatching.
Guided turtle tours are recommended for those who would like to view nesting marine turtles.
Keep to the recommended distance advised in the code of conduct.
Dogs should be kept away from turtle nesting beaches.
Do not touch or disturb resting, sleeping or mating turtles.
Making unnecessary contact with turtles is an offence.
Litter can harm all marine life, including turtles.
Regulations prohibit vessels discharging waste, including litter or sewage, within a marine park.
Source: Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions.
WHAT THE SHELL? SEA TURTLE FUN FACTS:
- Six out of the seven species of sea turtle inhabit Australian waters
- They are a part of a group of reptiles that have existed for over 100 million years
- The largest and heaviest turtle ever recorded was 914kg and almost 9ft long
- Turtles have major cultural significance for many Indigenous cultures
- They maintain the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs – commercially benefit valuable species such as shrimp, lobster, and tuna
- Turtles use the Earth’s magnetic field as a global GPS, working out both their latitude and longitude to head in the right direction