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Voluntourism - Conserving Turtles on Fraser Island

Home > Brisbane > Volunteering | Outdoor | Free | Environment
by Alison Muirhead (subscribe)
Doting grandmother and grey nomad who should join Volunteers Anonymous and is greatly in favour of a ten day week. So much to do, so little time.
Published April 20th 2013
Update May 24th 2016
This opportunity for this no longer occurs.

Turning Turtle on Fraser Island
Have you considered the latest travel fad of "voluntourism" then done a double back flip when you've priced the cost of giving your free time? If you have a reliable Four Wheel Drive vehicle, a love of nature, common sense, initiative, good general fitness, and a spirit of adventure, here is the solution for you.

Volunteers Ready to Roll

Fraser Island, that beautiful World Heritage area saved from logging and sand mining late last century, has become a mecca for tourists from all over. Sometimes it can get a little too squeezy, but there are still remote areas where you can commune with Mother Nature whilst giving her a helping hand.

Sandy Cape Light Station

Sandy Cape is a favourite spot for both Green and Loggerhead turtles (and occasionally a Flatback) to make their annual migration to mate and lay their precious eggs. Loggerheads are an endangered species, and with the number of natural predators which abound on the island, need a helping hand to ensure some of their progeny survive to repeat a turtle's life cycle. In Nature's strange way, only one in one thousand hatchlings lives to do so. This is where a human helping hand does not go astray.

A Helping Hand

Turtles begin their mating season in spring, then proceed to lay their eggs from November through to early April. Volunteers are required to relocate these eggs to safe enclosures above the high tide mark. Of course, there is a special procedure to be followed, and all novices are trained by experienced volunteers or rangers. For instance, did you know that eggs need to be transported in their original north-south alignment if shifted more than one hour after laying? Otherwise the egg contents detach from the shell and the egg is rendered infertile. Eggs are marked to assist in this process. This magnetic field allows the turtle to return to its birthplace to mate and lay its own eggs.

Night Duty

The major time of the year for conducting the census on these activities is over the Christmas-New Year period, but relocation and recording activities are spread over the entire nesting period. All relocation activities and condition of the turtles are recorded. Then comes the cleaning out of the laying chambers in readiness for the following year's batch of hatchlings, a malodorous occupation because of the number of eggs which have not been fertilised. Sometimes you get to assist a straggler or two which were not ready to go with the crowd when the nest erupted earlier. But you dare not carry them down to the water. They need to make their own way so as to imprint their home beach for a future return.

Cheaper by the Dozens

Much of this activity is carried out in night-time hours, so be prepared to reset your internal clocks. In return for four hours of volunteering per day, you are rewarded with a feel-good experience, accommodation in the comfortable lighthouse keepers' barracks, and time to do your own thing in a remote and outstandingly beautiful location. What a wonderful way for a couple to refresh their relationship when spending the bulk of a three-week stint on their ownsome! There must be at least two volunteers at a time, one of whom must have a Senior First Aid certificate. The only other duty required is to do the weather reports at 6am, 9am and 3pm, again with experienced volunteers instructing initially. This duty is modestly remunerated by the Bureau of Meteorology.

And what is there to do outside turtle season? According to John Sinclair of the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation in the March 2013 edition of NPA news, "In the twenty years since Fraser Island's World Heritage listing, the number of weeds recorded on Fraser Island has increased from 43 to almost 200." Training and weeding equipment is supplied. There are also general maintenance activities around the lighthouse precinct.

If you are interested in this free opportunity for voluntourism, contact All you need to bring are your supplies for three weeks, suitable clothing, fishing gear, and a sense of adventure.

Sundown at Sandy Cape
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Why? To assist nature while enjoying its beauty
When: All year round
Where: Sandy Cape Lighthouse Conservation Area Fraser Island
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Great article! Love all the photos!
by Jennifer Muirhead (score: 3|1225) 2916 days ago
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