ELSE­WHERE…

FOR­GET THE TEENAGE MU­TANT NINJA TURTLES. THE REAL CELEBRI­TIES IN A HALF SHELL ARE THOSE NEW­BORN MON REPOS NIGHT-TIME TURTLES. COWABUNGA!

Scout Magazine - - Front Page - Words: Belinda Glin­de­mann Photos: cour­tesy of Tourism Qld

With our first steps off the tim­ber board­walk and into the soft white sand of Mon Repos beach’s tur­tle rook­ery, you could cut the ex­cite­ment in the night air with a knife. Gig­gling chil­dren squeezed their par­ents’ hands tight, the adults them­selves cran­ing their necks and squint­ing into the black­ness for a glimpse of Mother Na­ture’s work.

Our group as­sem­bled a short way down the beach, cir­cling our ranger guide and hang­ing off his ev­ery (ed­u­cated) word. As he out­stretched his arm, fin­ger point­ing down to the swirling shore­line that we could just make out in the moon­light, the an­tic­i­pa­tion was pal­pa­ble.

“See that big, black, shiny ob­ject emerg­ing from the ocean?” he asked.

“Yes, yes, yes!” the group ea­gerly an­swered, await­ing con­fir­ma­tion of our very first tur­tle sight­ing.

“Well, that…is a rock.” Funny guy.

Mon Repos, 15km east of Bund­aberg and about 4.5 hours drive north of Bris­bane, is home to the largest con­cen­tra­tion of nest­ing marine turtles on Aus­tralia’s east coast and is the most sig­nif­i­cant Log­ger­head nest­ing site in the South Pa­cific. Queens­land Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice op­er­ate ‘Tur­tle En­counter’ tours, seven nights a week from Novem­ber to late-march an­nu­ally giv­ing tourists a close en­counter with th­ese amaz­ing rep­tiles. Nest­ing mother turtles ap­pear on the beach from Novem­ber to Jan­uary and the hatch­lings can be spot­ted from Jan­uary to March. With spring now sprung, it’s the per­fect time to be plan­ning your tur­tle-spot­ting tour.

On our visit in late-jan­uary, we were lucky enough to wit­ness both spec­ta­cles in the one night. Miss 6 and Miss 4 squealed with de­light as our guide’s torch­light re­vealed

a bub­bling mass of teeny tiny green-black turtles, each with a shell about the size of a 50-cent piece, clam­ber­ing from the sand in an awk­ward, clumsy mess of flip­pers. Our guide ex­plained that only one in 1000 of th­ese ba­bies would sur­vive long enough to lay her own clutch of eggs – a statis­tic that made us re­alise just how spe­cial those mas­sive adult turtles are. They need to sur­vive nat­u­ral preda­tors and hu­man in­ter­fer­ence (whether that be our rub­bish in the wa­ter­ways, our boats’ pro­pel­lers or our fish­ing nets) for 30 years be­fore their in­ter­nal GPS brings them back to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs.

Fur­ther along Mon Repos beach that night, we were lucky to wit­ness life come full cir­cle for one of those hatch­lings.

Our group waited in still­ness and si­lence while the nest­ing mum emerged from the wa­ter (and, yes, she did look like a rock), tracked di­rectly up the beach and set­tled her­self down. With her hind flip­pers, she dug a nest and be­gan to lay her eggs. Once she’d laid about 10 or so, our guides said we were able to ap­proach her and watch the rest of the amaz­ing process up close. Po­si­tioned at the ‘south­ern’ end of the big mumma, only a me­tre from the torch-lit ac­tion, hub­bie and I fielded some in­ter­est­ing ques­tions about the anatomy of a fe­male tur­tle from our lit­tle Misses as we watched the slimy ping pong ball-like eggs slip out. Only min­utes later, the mother tur­tle fin­ished her job, cov­ered up the eggs and am­bled back down to the wa­ter. In what was the best mo­ment of the night, we were asked by our guides to help re­lo­cate her 129 eggs to higher ground. You see, tur­tle eggs are por­ous so nests dug be­low the high-tide mark need to be re­lo­cated or the eggs ‘drown’.

Eyes wide with amaze­ment and steady hands fixed in a bowl shape, Miss 6 clutched a freshly laid tur­tle egg, slowly and care­fully car­ry­ing it up to the man-made nest in the higher sand dunes. She made a wish for the baby in­side the egg that night – that it would be that one in 1000 so we could keep com­ing back to Mon Repos to en­joy this amaz­ing tur­tle en­counter ex­pe­ri­ence for many years to come. And the rest of us were with her on that.

WWW.NPSR.QLD.GOV.AU/ PARKS/MON-REPOS

NEST­ING MOTHER TURTLES AP­PEAR ON THE BEACH FROM NOVEM­BER TO JAN­UARY AND THE HATCH­LINGS CAN BE SPOT­TED FROM JAN­UARY TO MARCH.

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