How to find turtles off Gili Air
We snorkelled twice a day during our three days on Gili Air and swam with turtles every time. We couldn't believe our luck; many operators offer diving and snorkelling tours further out to sea so we were anxious that turtle-spotting wouldn't be so easy this close to shore, without a guide.
Fortunately, we had a 100% turtle spotting success rate! Here's how:
Nº 1 - find the best snorkelling spot: head to the north-east
There are many entrance points to the water signposted along the north east path, from Scallywags Beach Club up to Gili Air Hotel. Our best snorkels were had after entering the water near Sandy Beach Bungalows. Swim past the sea grass, over the rocky mounds before reaching the deeper turquoise waters, and keep your eyes peeled.
Nº 2 - Scour the sponges
Hawksbill turtles feed almost exclusively on sponges, so if there's no sponges in sight, you may have a hard time spotting them. And boy, do they love to eat; we followed one hawksbill on his breakfast swim and he munched for pretty much a full hour.
Nº 3 - Swim at high tide
There is a fair amount of dead coral and rocks to swim over before you reach the reef, and unless you have feet of steel, attempting to snorkel at low tide is an unenjoyable experience. Check the tides before you set off.
Nº 4 - Snorkel in the morning
This is a good idea for many reasons. The weather is not too hot so you can swim for longer without concern that your butt is burning, the waters won't be as busy so you won't have to share your turtle experience, and for us, high tide was in the morning too.
Nº 5 - See where the boats are
If you snorkel later in the day (or even past 10.00am), many of the snorkel and dive boats are on the waters not far from the shore. Hans Reef is a popular dive site in the north east and we went snorkelling near there after spotting a few boats around. We did see a turtle, so its worth sussing out where the tours go as to where the best sites are.
Nº 6 - Be patient
We had a 100% success rate in swimming with turtles, however on our last snorkel we were searching for at least half an hour before we spotted one. They blend in incredibly well with the coral and sponges, so it can sometimes be difficult to see them, especially if visibility isn't great.
It's easy to hire snorkelling equipment; most accommodation will rent fins and masks, or you can visit Gili Air Divers who may rent equipment independent of tours.
Happy snorkelling :)