The tracks of baby turtle hatchlings in the wet sand are a moving feature of the early mornings from summer to autumn along Mon Repos beach just east of Bundaberg on Queensland’s coastline. The story behind those tracks is an inspiring tale of survival and a miracle of nature that visitors can witness first-hand on guided evening tours during summer at the Conservation Park at Mon Repos.
Each summer green, flatback and loggerhead turtles embark on a journey, travelling as far as 3,000km to return to their birthplace and begin the new cycle of life all over again. The turtles head for the mainland beaches and the cays of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Less than one in one thousand of their hatchlings will survive to maturity, returning as they have done 30 to 40 years later to the beaches of their birth, drawn by the earth’s magnetic fields or the scent of the waters.
Australian waters are home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle: loggerhead, green, hawksbill, leatherback, olive ridley and flatback. Loggerheads are the most common to breed at Mon Repos, followed by flatbacks, greens and leatherbacks. Although turtles have existed for over 100 million years, five species are now endangered. Turtles can live for over a century and breed over several decades returning to their ‘home’ beach every two or more years laying up to six clutches of eggs in one season. The sand’s temperature and humidity can determine the gender – darker sand that is warm and humid produces more females while lighter, cooler and less humid sand will mean the eggs take longer to hatch producing more males. It’s easy to remember…the girls and cool and the boys are hot!
Turtle nesting occurs from mid-November through to early February. Turtles come ashore at night to nest. It takes one to two hours as the turtle digs a body pit then scoops out a narrow egg chamber to lay around 100 eggs. Once the laying commences, the Ranger will direct the use of torches and carry out identification of the turtle. Once the precious eggs are laid the turtle fills in the chamber and returns to the sea. Her little hatchlings will be due to make their way to the surface of the beach some six to eight weeks later after their incubation period is complete (from January to mid-March).
So by late summer the hatchlings begin to emerge and scramble their way to the sea, mostly under cover of darkness in the hope of protecting themselves from greedy predators.
You may even get the chance to help guide these tiny little creatures into the sea to help them on their perilous journey of survival. Mon Repos is Australia’s largest mainland loggerhead turtle nesting site on the east coast.
You can join guided evening tours during turtle season.
Entry is by ticket only and a small charge applies to assist with conservation and research.
Small torches and cameras are permitted ONLY when Rangers indicate.
Bookings are essential by phoning (07) 41538888 or at www.bundabergregion.org.
Visit us on Facebook.