A magical moonlight delivery
The Escape family gets up close and personal with a nesting turtle in a memorable brush with nature, writes Donna Kramer
LIFE’S most enjoyable moments can occur at surprising times. I was certainly not expecting a moonlit beach in Bundaberg in southern Queensland to deliver one of my family’s most remarkable experiences of the past year.
We went prepared, wearing comfortable walking shoes and carrying backpacks filled with insect repellent, water, blankets and food to keep us going until dawn. Not to mention iPads, iPods – well, iEverythings – to keep the children entertained.
We’d been warned, you see.
Vince, the manager at the Bargara Shoreline Apartments, our home for the weekend, told us that previous hotel guests had stayed out until 2am watching the turtles nest. I later learnt that these people enjoyed their original experience so much they’d secured passes to every available session where, over the course of one evening, they witnessed five endangered loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
As soon as I heard of the 2am turtle vigil, I began mentally preparing for an endurance adventure. Thankfully, Mother Nature had a different plan. After a day of tastings at Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, virtual hang-gliding at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation and swimming in Bargara’s famous Basin Rock Pool, my family arrived at Mon Repos beach, the largest loggerhead turtle rookery in the South Pacific, for our moonlit Guided Turtle Tour.
Here we were met by enthusiastic wildlife rangers and volunteers who told us: ‘‘ Folks, we are going to skip the formalities and head straight down to the beach as we have a lovely lady who has emerged from the ocean and is making her way up to the dunes.’’ Major win. Along with 50 other excited turtlewatchers, husband, Chris, children Ella and Meghan and I made our way silently along the moonlit sand (turtles can be disoriented by bright lights so all torches are banned) until we were met by Ranger Joe 300m along the beach. It was here the magic happened. Towards the sand dunes lay a 95cm loggerhead turtle that was silently laying her eggs.
To the untrained eye, she could have been easy to miss as she was protectively covered in sand and plant-life as she delivered her 100-150 offspring into the nest below.
Here, in the darkness with only a backdrop of crashing waves, Ranger Joe explained the aweinspiring science behind the annual turtle migration.
Only one in 1000 turtles survives to make the return journey of more than 2000km to reach their nesting destination and these turtles instinctively return to the beach they hatched from 30 years earlier.
We also learnt that the sex of the turtles is determined by the temperature of their nests and that the warmer sands of Mon Repos produce mainly female hatchlings.
After 45 minutes, the loggerhead turtle, which we later found out via her tracking tag had not been ashore at Mon Repos since 2004, had finished laying her eggs. Our group of turtle-watchers parted like the Red Sea as she hastily made her way back down the beach between us and slipped into the waves.
If she even noticed the 50-plus people watching, there was no indication of it.
Walking back along the beach towards the turtle information centre, we were furiously looking at the waves to see if another turtle had come ashore. We, like others before us, wanted to experience it all again.
Turtle tourism is big business in Bundaberg, drawing about 30,000 people a year. Yet the beaches, cafes and shoreline parks are peaceful and it’s not difficult to find a quiet space.
I can tell when Chris likes a holiday destination if I find him looking in the real estate windows.
In Bargara, I found him doing that a lot.
He’ll have to settle for a trip back in January to see the turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest and scurry down to the ocean.
AMAZING NATURE: A loggerhead turtle returns to the ocean (above); and a loggerhead laying her eggs (right).
SEA AND AIR: (clockwise from left) People wait for turtles to come ashore at Mon Repos; Donna Kramer and Jaala Lassig at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation; Jaala and Ella Lassig playing at Turtle Park, Bargara; and Meghan and Ella Lassig on a hang-gliding simulator at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation.