I was there at the precious moment when they took their very first steps making the first foray into the mighty Pacific Ocean. And it was turtle-ly fascinating!
Standing in complete darkness in Mon Repos Turtle Rookery in Bargara with a group of around 30 other nature-lovers, the sound of massive waves from the sea right behind us was cracking in my ears, when quietly our rangers walked to us to spread the news that a clutch of eggs were located on the beach.
My heart was pumping loud and fast like it was a first date! Although it was my third time seeing turtle hatchlings at Mon Repos, every time I still feel that it was such a unique, deeply emotional and almost miraculous occasion.
I followed the rangers to other side of the broadwalk and it was so well-timed; I started to see movements from the tiny flippers down underneath the sand. It was almost like a race for these little dudes. Their mummas dug a massive hole that went as deep as 22 inches down the surface and delivered a clutch of around 100 ping-pong sized eggs, it was a whole LOT of digging and racing to the top for the newborns!
Not long after, the race leader has emerged, sticking its tiny nose out from the sand dunes, taking its very first breathe of fresh air and waving frantically to us like it was just about to cross the finish line with a gold medal. But in fact, it was only the start of their adventurous journey. And sadly, only about one in a thousand makes it to adulthood.
For the strong surviving female turtles, they seem to have GPS planted in their bodies to be able to find their way back to where they departed for their maiden voyage 30 years after – now isn’t life on earth amazing?
I was so sure this clutch of newborn was my lucky star, for it was the first time I was able to see hatchlings as well as witnessing one of the mumma turtles make a return to Mon Repos for her very first nesting season. Nesting season usually runs from November to January at Mon Repos on the pristine Eastern Australian coast, while hatchlings start to greet visitors from late January till March. I was there in early February and apparently this beautiful mumma was a late comer, albeit a very determined one. I spent almost two hours on the beach standing by her side, watching her diligently digging a hole that was good enough for her clutch of one hundred precious mini-me.
Here I share with you a few tips to make a delightful visit at Mon Repos, for yourselves and of course the turtles which are the shining stars of the show.
1. Completely switch off your mobile and tablets as flashing lights from your devices will distract the baby turtles and get them disorientated. They follow the reflection on the water from moonlight to the ocean.
2. Wear a windbreaker jacket with a hood or a light scarf as it can get quite windy waiting on the beach. Pack a poncho too to have yourself wet-weather proof.
3. Book online in advance. You don’t need to arrive early on the day to get into the first group, your group number is assigned when you book. Booking ahead of time means you’ll be in the first few groups to be on the beach as soon as the rangers start to detect activities.
4. Bring a stack of play card, a good book or whatever that works for you to kill time! We arrived just before 7pm as advised and we were the third group, which saw us waited three and a half hours before our group number was called. The day before the last group was called at around 1:30am. It’s all a waiting game as turtles don’t wear watches.
5. Bring along a snack pack for the late night in case you get a bit peckish. Craving for some hot food? Visit the lovely old gentleman in the caravan shed outside the information centre who sells hot chips and Dagwood dog. Or just stop by for a chat if you’re simply bored of waiting. This friendly ‘tuck van’ owner has been serving comfort food for turtle-lovers at Mon Repos for more than ten years so chances are that he might have some turtle tales to share!
6. Bring along a a weak torch and you’ll secure yourself the important role of leading baby turtles to the the ocean through forming a ‘light tunnel’. Nothing else defines money-can’t-buy experience better than this, right?
The best line to sum up my Mon Repos visit? For a moment it felt like I was in a David Attenborough’s documentary. The experience was truly out-of-this-world spectacular and utterly memorable. And then I started to wonder, ‘would I bump into one of your little bubba turtles again at Mon Repos thirty years after?‘.
See you in 2044, you cutest shining stars! 🙂