Australian Traveller eco-reporter Danielle Lancaster discovers the birthing of ancient mariners is much more than just a natural miracle.
After the sun sets from early January to March, the sandy shores of Mon Repos (French for “my rest”) erupt as thousands of tiny turtle hatchlings scramble to the surface and proceed down the beach in a frantic dash to the ocean.
This annual spectacle has been occurring along Queensland’s central coast and adjacent sandy islands for millions of years, but it’s only at Mon Repos that you’ll witness a nightly “science lesson” given by dedicated volunteers and Qld Parks & Wildlife staff that’s nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Mon Repos supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern seaboard and the most significant Loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific Ocean. Green, Flatback and Leatherback turtles join the endangered Loggerheads using the protected beach of Mon Repos, only 15km east of Bundaberg City or a 4hr drive north of Brisbane.
Just 1 in 1000 of the hatchlings will live long enough to breed. Their natural instinct to head to the lowest natural light source after breaking through the sand has seen coastal population eruptions causing many to become disorientated; instead of heading for the horizon across the sea, some make course inland. For this reason, Mon Repos beach is closed during the turtle season from 6pm-6am, and trees have been planted extensively to block local lighting.
A ticketed system for viewing the turtles not only ensures there’s little disturbance to their remarkable ritual and that you get to spend quality time with the committed crews, it also means you can assist firsthand in their paddle to the sea. Take a torch and join in the tunnel of light – no matter what your age, this is fun! With legs stretched wide as though ready for an exercise session and torch shining on the sand below, you’ll see the hatchlings set off on their race for the sea with you as their escort.
Bookings are essential for the tours at Mon Repos, with prices starting at $4.60 children/seniors and $8 adults. Turtles and hatchlings can also be viewed at Lady Elliot or Lady Musgrave Islands, which are both accessible from the Bundaberg region. More info on 1800 308 888 or at www.bundabergregion.org