Turtle Watch

Since leaving the Whitsundays we have been slowly making our way south along the incredibly long and pretty boring Bruce Highway. Queensland has obviously decided to spend its way out of the world recession and they have a massive road repair scheme under way which makes travelling more laborious than it would normally be. It’s never long before you come across a huge civil engineering project.

Occasionally we stop at one of the free overnight stops. Other times we head for the coast and camp by the beach. Recently we stayed at Baffle Creek just south of Agnes Water and a town called 1770 ( called this because Cook came ashore here in 1770). Agnes Water is significant because south of here the waters become clear of stingers so swimming is now safe.

Whilst walking on the remote Rules Beach near Baffle Creek the other morning a ranger on a quad bike stopped for a chat. He was telling us about the loggerhead turtles that come ashore at this time of year to lay their eggs and told us the best place to see them was near Bundaberg. We were already going to visit Bundaberg as it’s famous for it’s distillery where Bundaberg Rum is made from molasses left over from the sugar cane industry. We’ve been drinking a lot of this of late. It’s not the best tasting stuff but a bit like Spanish brandy, after the first couple of bottles it seems to get better.

We booked to go with a group and a guide to see the turtles at a place called Mon Repos. The beach here which is several kilometres long is a national park and the general public are not allowed on unaccompanied between 6pm and 6am which is when the turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

Turtles are an endangered species. Fishing, leisure boating and humans have put incredible pressure on them. We had to be at Mon Repos by 7pm and if necessary stay until 2am. There is a large information area where you wait and the rangers are on the beach looking out for turtles emerging from the sea. If one turns up you are taken out to watch and help if necessary. We got the call quite early and after a fair walk we came across a large loggerhead happily laying her eggs. The turtle first digs a large hole about 60cm deep and then lay on average 120 eggs. In this case it was 156 ping pong ball sized leathery eggs. All the time the rangers are checking , measuring and recording. This turtle was just under one metre in length and weighed about 100 kilos. From her tag they knew that she was about 56 years old and that she was last seen on that beach in 2007.

When she had finished and covered the eggs over she made her way back to the sea. She had, however, layed her eggs too far down the beach so we had to carefully help to dig them up and dig a new nest further up the beach where we then re-sited them. While we were doing this two other turtles came out of the sea within a few metres of us and started digging their nests. It was late when we came off the beach. What a privelege to watch these incredible creatures of which we know so little.

Turtle Facts –

1. Temperature of sand determines male or female.
2. Only breed every 4 to 5 years
3. Start breeding at 30+ years old
4. After hatching turtles have a magnetic imprint which brings them back to approximately the same place to lay their eggs 30 years later
5. For the first 17 years of their life they disappear and travel the oceans of the world but no one really knows quite where they go – known as ‘the lost years’.

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