Friday, January 11, 2013

Meeting A Loggerhead

This is the second post in a series about our road trip north. Read the previous posts here:
Heading to Bundaberg

We arrived at Mon Repos Conservation Park early to have dinner before our tour.

The information centre opened at 7pm and we queued up to find out which group we were in. Apparently, you have to book months in advance if you want to be in Group 1. We ended up being in Group 4.

Your group number determines when you get to enter the beach, and that is based on if/when a turtle arrives on the beach, or hatchlings are spotted. At first, it didn't make sense to me because they said that sometimes people have to wait hours and some end up not even seeing any. Then, I realized it's because each group goes to a different nest. That way, instead of having 300 people crowding around a single turtle, you only have 60 (which is still a lot but much better). 

Anyway, I got us all prepared for the night according to suggestions made on their website. We were ready for the long-haul. We had bug-repellent, warm clothes, snacks and water, and an iPad in case things turned south.

Once we got inside, I wasn't too worried about the boys getting bored. The information centre had plenty to entertain us with. The centre itself had walls covered with facts about sea turtles and conservation efforts. They had an area with books and activities for the children. They even had a few educational videos lined up for us to watch in the amphitheatre. 

As we entered, the first group was called to the boardwalk. This was a good sign - the earlier the first group goes in, the earlier (hopefully) the rest of us goes in. Even the guides commented on how it could be an early night.

We continued to do puzzles until they announced the movie. Then, we found a spot in the amphitheatre and settled in. It became quite apparent at this point that it was not going to be a cold night. I knew it would get cooler by the water but surely we wouldn't need our sweaters! So Andrew brought them back to the car and the second and third groups were called!

By this time, it occurred to me that we could get called in sooner than we had expected. I looked down at my bag full of snacks and entertainment and realized I probably didn't want to drag it onto the beach with me. So as the movie started up again, Andrew went to the car to drop off our load of stuff. Right when he got back, we were called. Perfect timing.

The guide briefed us on the rules and we headed out along the boardwalk. It was absolutely pitch black and I only knew where we were going by watching the people directly in front of me, so I made sure to keep right behind them. We got to the sand and it was so peaceful. All you could see was the ocean on one side, a huge stretch of sand in front and behind you, and a sky filled with millions of stars. 

Every bone in my body wanted to whip out my camera and capture this moment somehow but of course, that wasn't possible. We weren't allowed to use cameras until the guide said it was okay to. So we kept walking along the water, trying not to get wet, eager for the guide to stop and signal that we were near our turtle (because I couldn't for the life of me see anything with my own two eyes). 

After a very long walk, we reached the spot. Finally, I could make out a set of dark tracks which meant the turtle was nearby. 

The guide arranged us around the turtle and explained to us that she was digging out a flask-shaped hole for her nest. We watched as she used her flippers to scoop out the sand. Her movements were so methodical and purposeful. When the nest was big enough, she positioned herself and began to lay eggs.

We waited until she had laid about a dozen eggs before we were able to encircle her. The guide explained that she was aware that we were present, but she didn't care due to a chemical her body releases while she lays her eggs.

We were all mesmerized and would have missed out on our opportunity to take pictures if one of the ladies in our tour hadn't asked. Shouldn't that be one of the top things on the guide's list of things to inform us?

Anyway, here's one of the better photos I have of her. The poor thing, there were so many flashes going off at once, I tried to take my photos piggybacking off someone else's flash.

Soon enough, she was finished covering up her nest and she began her journey back to the ocean. Her steps were slow and she paused once in a while to gain some energy. 

Did you know that only 1 in every 1000 sea turtles live to breeding age? I wanted to run over and hug her and tell her how amazing she was. But that would have been overly dramatic and so out of character for me, not to mention very, very against the rules. 

We stood watching as she finally reached the water. A wave came and pulled her a little closer into the ocean and with the next wave, she was gone.

With that, we all headed back to the nest where the guide dug up a couple eggs for us to touch. Normally, they wouldn't do this, but he had determined that with the king tides coming in, her eggs were at risk.

Nathan, my Nathan, the same one I had to spend five minutes convincing to touch an empty shark egg at the Sydney Aquarium, turned to me and asked me to take a picture of him touching the egg. I was shocked. I did manage to get a shot of him touching the eggs, but it was so dark I couldn't frame it properly. Plus the guide was moving so quickly - what was his rush anyway?

After the guide buried the eggs back in the nest, we all made the long trek back to the boardwalk, but not before meeting the oldest recorded turtle to nest at Mon Repos! They had found her at the other end of the beach and one of the researchers were bringing her back to their research centre to take some measurements. We happened to run into him along the way.

We didn't get to see any hatchlings this time around but it was amazing to see a sea turtle up close. 

1 comment:

  1. great post!!!
    well done Mrs Turtle!!!

    and post below....
    mmmmm bunaberg ginger beer!!!



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