Mon Repos (pronounced "mon reepo", French for "My Rest") is a loggerhead turtle rookery, 15km outside Bundaberg, on the Fraser coast in Queensland. It's here you will find the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and where successful breeding is critical for the survival of this endangered species.
Visits to nesting and hatching turtles take place in the evenings between November and March. The 2011/12 season started a little later than usual and therefore was extended until the Easter weekend. We managed to book places for the final night of the season. The best time to see turtles is after dark from mid November to February. Hatching turtles are usually seen from mid January until late March. A January visit is an optimum time as you may be lucky enough to see both adults and hatchlings.
It was already dark when we arrived at Mon Repos Conservation Park. A full moon illuminated a night sky which was bright, with a rich scattering of stars. At the information centre, groups were drawn up, based on date of booking. We were advised several times that due to the lateness of the season, we might not see any hatchlings that evening. Video presentations in an outside amphitheatre were interesting and informative, describing the committed efforts of Dr Limpus and his ongoing research.
"In 1968, Dr Limpus began a quest to follow the loggerhead turtles during their lifetime. Over almost a decade, a group of volunteers helped him tag the shells of 130,000 baby loggerheads. In 2005, the first of those hatchlings, now adults, returned to Mon Repos Beach to breed." (Factsheet)
Children's activities were organized to keep young children busy for some of the wait, which turned out to be 3 hrs. for us. Ranger guides monitor the beach for activity and as soon as a turtle is spotted then small groups visit the beach at a time. At 10pm we were informed that the rangers on the beach had been unable to locate any active nest sites. Many families with young children had already left and numbers were significantly reduced. My youngest daughter smiled afterwards as she told me "when the others were going, I knew something special was about to happen and this was going to be a magic moment". The ranger explained that part of research conducted included recording nest site success. That meant that we would still visit the beach for a nest dig.
Our group gathered around the ranger who had led us along the beach to locate a marked nest site. He began to dig down in the sand with his hands. His purpose was to retrieve the remains from a nest and record his findings.
By the light of his head torch, he reached down into, by now a fairly deep hole, and suddenly announced the discovery of a tiny survivor. An audible gasp escaped our lips as the group craned forward to see. A single turtle, smaller than the palm of your hand, was held up.
The ranger explained that this little turtle would have hatched 4 or 5 days previous but hadn't made it out of the nest with his brothers and sisters. He looked so tiny and so vulnerable. As our guide took all the remaining eggshells from the nest, he arranged them on the sand for classification, in piles: "hatched/unhatched/under developed/eaten" and recorded his findings to measure the success of the nest. Only 50% of this site had successfully hatched, poor by normal standards of 80% and above. Roots had resulted in a shallow hole and a rainy summer meant a number of eggs had fungus on them.
While this work was being completed a second ranger drew lines in the sand to show the group where to stand. We formed a kind of runway for the turtle to reach the sea. The turtle was set down at the top of the dunes for the beginning of his epic journey to the East Australian Current. Instead of just popping the turtle straight into the ocean, she was left to make her way down to the water herself, allowing her to set her internal compass, so she can find her way back in 30 years or so, to lay her own eggs. Guided by the nearest light source, naturally the moon, tonight by the ranger's torch, the little turtle valiantly made her way over the sand to the water's edge. A single footprint presented a challenge of sand dune proportions. The waves raced up the shore, lifting her up, taking her out. Two more waves and she vanished. I struggled to comprehend the size of this tiny survivor and the enormity of the ocean she was swept into. We worry about sending our children out into the world after 18 years of parenting and yet here was this little dot of marine life making her way into the ocean at 5 days old with no parents or siblings in sight. I held my breath for her, wishing a safe journey, for her to be the one in a thousand that makes it to adulthood. I wished she had been tagged. Maybe one day I would return and see the same turtle, returning to her nest site in around 30 years from now, to lay her eggs. I would like to think that was possible. The moon reflected off the ocean as we walked back along the beach. My 9 year old squeezed my hand and turned her shining eyes up to meet mine and summed up the experience: "that was so awesome, mum – it was a magic moment". If you want to make a life memory with your children, then take them to Mon Repos. It's hard to describe the impact of this unique experience.
Bookings are essential Book online Note that family bookings can only be made over the phone or contact the Bundaberg Region Ltd on (07) 4153 8888 or visit Bundaberg Region visitor centre at 271 Bourbong Street, Bundaberg.
We went in February 2012 and got to see a turtle laying. It is such a wonderful experience, but can be a big nite for the little ones. The only downside for us was carrying the kids on a 800 metre trek along the beach at night. But the workout was worth it. I recommend afternoon naps for everyone!