Chances are that you know Bundaberg for its turtles. The nesting and hatchling season of the endangered loggerhead turtles on Mon Repos beach is a bucket-list item that people travel from around the world to see.
Located just 15km north east of Bundaberg’s CBD, Mon Repos Turtle Centre is the largest loggerhead turtle rookery in the southern hemisphere and most accessible turtle rookery on the Australian mainland. Offering the only guided turtle tour on the east coast of Australia, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers take small groups of visitors to watch the natural phenomenon nightly between November and March, in a safe and sustainable for the turtles.
The start of the turtle season, in November and December, is when you can see the largest concentration of mumma turtles come ashore and make their way up the soft dunes to nest and lay their clutch of eggs. Typically, turtles lay around 130 eggs per clutch (although the number can vary between turtle breeds).
Found a favourite turtle? Mumma turtles return roughly every two weeks to nest and can lay up to four clutches per season. Return to Mon Repos during the laying season to see if you can spot her again, or take a trip to Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands, where you can swim with the turtles as they feed amongst the coral.
Mon Repos’ mystically alluring beach attracts a number of species of turtle including the Loggerhead, Flatback, Green Sea, Leatherback and the smallest breed of them all, the Olive Ridley. The nesting turtles come off the Eastern Australian Current, made famous by the movie ‘Finding Nemo’ and our favourite turtles Crush and Squirt, after travelling tens of thousands of kilometres around the world.
Sea turtles have an estimated lifespan of 60-80 years, though there are a number on record exceeding 100 years! Reaching sexual maturity around 20-30 years old, they return to the same location where they were born – no matter how far away – when they are ready to nest, a fact proven by scientist Dr Col Limpus after years of study on Mon Repos.
On some nights, rangers will ask for volunteers from the crowd to very carefully relocate eggs that may be laid in a tidal area or need to be moved to safety. Lucky visitors can ever so gently lift the eggs up and place them in a safe area where they can hatch sometime between January and March.
The Mon Repos Beach march of tiny turtle hatchlings is an experience that you will never forget. From January to March, thousands of hatchlings make their way toward the ocean on Mon Repos Beach. The effort required to break free from their shell is just the first of many challenges these tiny critters face as they commence a journey that will span many continents, many times over.
Baby sea turtles start at an adorably tiny 5-7cm in length – but can grow up to a whopping 2m long. Once they have hatched, the hatchlings use their sprint across the sand as time to imprint the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field. This helps them to lock in the location, allowing them to return to the place they were born, even if they haven’t been back in 30 years! This is a ‘natural homing’ phenomenon.
Our top tip: bring a torch with you in hatchling season (not just the one on your smartphone) and you might be invited to create the hatching tunnel to guide the babies into the water!
Everyone can witness these majestic creatures nest and hatch from November to March. When arriving into beautiful Bundaberg, you can book in person with the friendly staff at the Bundaberg Visitor Information Centre, centrally located on Bourbong Street, or if you’re racing against the clock to make it to Bundy by night fall, pull over and book in by calling 1300 722 099 or visit www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/book-now-monrepos-nightlyturtle-encounter . Bookings close 4pm daily for turtle tours during the season.
An empty stomach is needed for next month’s edition when Bundaberg’s finest produce, brews, spirits, drops and culinary creators are explored.
Tags: Bundaberg QLD Queensland Turtles Tours Rally Sea Ocean Mon Repos Lady Elliott Island Lady Musgrave Island
Written: Tue 01 Aug 2017
Printed: August, 2017