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While scouting locations to photograph sea turtles on Heron Island, Australia, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, I noticed a gull fly from a turtle nesting area in the sand dunes along the shore with something in its mouth. The gull landed at the water’s edge and proceeded to first rinse off and then attempt to choke down its meal—a green turtle hatchling. The bird struggled for over 15 minutes before successfully swallowing the turtle whole. Afterward, it flew back to join other gulls in some nearby trees to await sunset when more hatchlings would emerge from their nests.
Gulls are often treated as pests in the area—and gulping baby turtles doesn’t help that reputation—yet they play an important role in the island’s ecosystem. Their droppings fertilize the trees, which secure the sand and in turn provide a place for adult turtles to lay their eggs.