It’s around 6pm and mosquitoes are having a feast over our bodies while we are all lined up impatiently to enter Mon Repos Conservation Centre, in Bundaberg, Queensland. It’s mid-December and it’s TURTLE SEASON in Australia, where hundreds of marine turtles return from an epic trip around the world to lay eggs in the very same shore where they once were born. Right before we go in, we are divided in groups which will be called in order when a volunteer, who by this time is already at the beach, spots a turtle coming straight from the sea. Since it’s an unpredictable activity (some nights it doesn’t appear one single turtle), visitors can take their time to hover around and check the permanent exhibition at Mon Repos facilities, with loads of information about the Centre itself and their work with marine turtles. There’s also an amphitheater, where the public can watch a short movie about it! – which works great with the little ones who needs to wait for long periods of time (but it depends on the weather). Take your time to read, watch and learn the amazing journey of these creatures leaving their birthplace, swimming around the world and coming back, nesting and hatching, since it will make the whole sense once you actually get face to face with one! I was on the second group and considering that the first group was called but came back straight away, since the turtle gave up on giving birth on that day and turned around towards the sea, I waited between 2-3 hours on that night until a ranger finally spotted the second turtle of that night coming to Mon Repos beach and sent a message to the volunteer in the Centre, so he could call us in order to get prepared to the real action. After some short instructions on how to behave (mostly with photos/videos with flash and brisk movements around a turtle who was giving birth) and what to expect once we hit the beach, we started walking in a very compact group towards the turtle, which finally found her right spot to start the miracle we were about to see. Under a starry night, with no artificial lights, and into a vast dark stretch of beach, where we could barely see our feet, we quietly reach this amazing spot not so far from Mon Repos Conservation Centre to witness one of the most fantastic phenomenon of Nature I've ever seen: watch a thirty-years-old-ish turtle lay her eggs in a hole she just dug with her paws, the same which left a trace on the sand, connecting the dunes with that gloomy sea. After a lifetime swimming around the world, surfing in so many seas and getting uncounted lifts in currents that come and go, she ends up exactly where she was brought to life – well, not exactly in the same beach, but for sure in the same shore, according to information gathered minutes before, at the Conservation Centre. While she is laying around 100 eggs – some kids wouldn't blink their eyes so they wouldn't miss the counting, which was underlined by whispers, people are quietly surrounding her, astonished. Researchers and volunteers take measures, collect blood samples and put a tag on her, if she doesn’t have one yet. And while she is still finishing her job, we are all over her, amazed by this simple, yet so unusual scene. It's just another day in the wild life kingdom, where animals follow the rules imposed by Nature… naturally. Where I almost couldn't believe I was there, watching such an unbelievable moment, where she struggles a bit to move around in the sand in order to go back from where she came – after all, she need to 'breathe'! After adjusting the route, off she went, unshakable, to the sea, leaving behind on the sand one big track mark, just parallel to the first one, and another one right across my heart which, in secret, cried from such a beautiful scene, while my lips, in silence, opened a wide smile almost the same size of such grandiosity.
BASIC INFORMATIONThe turtle season happens from November until March throughout some beaches around North Queensland shore. With luck, in the right place and the right time, you could see that by yourself. At Mon Repos Turtle Centre, located in Bargara, 14km of Bundaberg, you can join a guided tour to watch nesting and hatching. Nesting – from November to January Hatching – from January to March To book a ticket (I would highly recommend that), please visit www.bundabergregion.org. You can also book a bus transport which will leave from/return to Bundaberg, if you don’t have a car.
- Book in advance. Everyone who gets to the Conservation Centre is welcome to witness the event, but people who arrive with no reservation will be the last ones to be called – if they are called.
- Bring a REPELENT with you. Especially for that moment when you wait outside Mon Repos Conservation Centre before you get in, between 6 and 7pm.
- Don’t forget a coat. Mon Repos it’s a wild beach with no constructions around, which also means ‘no obstruction’ – the wind is wild.
- Proper shoes/sandals to be used at the beach. Keep in mind that you will barely see where you are stepping (wild beach with dim lights) and there are some rocks by the dunes, where the turtle go for nesting. Heels are not indicated for this activity.
- Take some snacks with you. It can be a long wait. If you didn’t, Mon Repos has a coffee cart which stays open in the evening – good for emergencies!
- Mon Repos Centre is actually part of Mon Repos Regional Park where you can trek and ride a bike during the day.
- Tip for photographers: Lights are limited since turtles get disorientated by it and it may influence their natural journey. Deal with that and be mindful about flashes. You will have a very limited time to use it and your guide will tell you when it’s the best time. Use that information wisely!