Next we headed to Burnett Heads near Bundaberg. We stayed there just to go to the Mon Repos Turtle Centre. This small area of beach supports the largest concentration of nesting turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and the research conducted at the centre is helping to save this endangered animal. Steve tried to see some near where we were staying at Agnes Water, but just missed them coming up and going back into the water. If we had had more time there and better weather we would have been able to see them there,but this was to give us a better chance with such a high concentration at Mon repos.
We arrived at 7pm with the masses. The public is not allowed on this beach at night and it’s all high security. The rangers wait until after dark and find the turtles for you and then your group is called to go down to the beach. They wait until the turtle has made their way up to the site they want to start digging, before we were allowed near them. They often will start up the beach and turn around if disturbed. We saw a lot of evidence of this in our walks in the day. Sometimes the turtle couldn’t get high enough above the high tide mark because of obstructions and sometimes it was hard to see why they turned around. It was a bit of a circus with about 60 people in our group and there were 5 groups. There were 5 or 6 turtles on the beach until 11pm.
The turtles took there time arriving after dark on this night. We were called about 10pm.
We watched in the dark with just a torch from the ranger pointed at the turtles back end lighting the “show”. As soon as the turtle had stopped it’s very slow and careful digging of an egg chamber and started to convulse and lay the eggs, the rangers got into action. It is at this time that the turtle is in a type of trance and doesn’t notice what is going on. We still felt sorry for the thing though. Our turtle was a flatback turtle not the usual loggerhead, so was of special interest. Well before we knew it, some very esteemed marine Dr was there with what looked like a laptop computer but that ended up being an ultrasound machine. He lubed up his probe with gel and stuck it under the convulsing/egg laying turtle to check it’s ovaries for follicles for an indication of when it could next lay. They can return to the beach every 2 weeks if they have eggs to lay. She then had all four of her flippers tagged and she was measured 4 different times by 4 different people. All the time trying to lay her eggs-poor thing. Once she was done laying she started to cover the eggs with sand flying everywhere and that was the time the hordes of people were allowed to take photos. Steve took his with no flash but you can see how much light there was from everyone else. She didn’t look like she enjoyed the flash. It was amazing to see this whole process, but I did feel sorry for the turtle. Hopefully this will help it’s kind to be around for much longer. We just love seeing them when we are diving. Interestingly, with all the turtles hanging around the coast up here at the moment we did not see any on Lady Musgrave, on our 2 dives there. We did manage to see a metre long white tipped reef shark which didn’t hang around very long. M
After she covered the egg chamber she turned around and “ran” back down to the water and disappeared into the black see. By the time we got back up the beach the rangers had dug up all 62 eggs, counted them and had dug another hole higher up above the high water mark! Approx 1/4 of all the turtles that come up to lay have their eggs moved to a “better position” to keep them viable to hatch. We then all helped to move the eggs from the first hole to the human hole! Amazing stuff. I wish we could be around to see these hatch! Maybe next time! M