Return of the ancient mariner

Woman riding turtle at Mon Repos
Woman sits on a turtle at Mon Repos (?) Beach. Ca 1930. Photo State Library of Queensland. Photo ID: API-100-0001-002Much has changed since this scene was captured in the 1930s. Marine turtles have faced serious problems and experienced great declines in numbers in the last seven decades. However, awareness of the plight of turtles has increased, and conservation efforts have brought successes in both understanding of turtle biology and in ways to halt their decline. Mon Repos Conservation Park, near Bundaberg on the Queensland Coast, supports the largest concentration of nesting sea turtles on the east Australian mainland. Nesting turtles at Mon Repos include the loggerhead, flatback, and green. At the peak of a prime nesting season, 20 or more turtles a night (mostly loggerheads) come ashore to nest on this 1.5km long sandy beach.

Mon Reps beach, late afternoon.

This small beach at Mon Repos, near Bundaberg, supports the largest concentration of nesting sea turtles on the east Australian mainland. 

Loggerhead Turtle, Mon Repos beach.

A female Loggerhead Turtle hauls herself ashore late one stormy afternoon in December 2010. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS).

Jupiter rising and the lights from Bagara, Mon Repos beach at night.

Jupiter rising and the lights from Bargara — Mon Repos beach at night. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS). 

One of Australia’s most dedicated and successful conservation efforts has been based at Mon Repos. Decades of committed research by a small band of staff and volunteers has lead to a remarkable synthesis of research and public education. Access to the nesting beach at Mon Repos is controlled so that the turtles aren’t disturbed. However, people can still witness these ancient marine reptiles leaving the sea to nest as part of controlled groups led by experienced staff and volunteers from the Mon Repos Information Centre, run by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS).

Mon Repos Information Centre

A QPWS ranger talks about marine turtles while people wait for their group to be called to the beach to see a turtle. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS).

Nesting Loggerhead Turtle.

A group of turtle watchers, guided by a QPWS ranger, experiences an ancient ritual. The turtle is not disturbed by lights once she starts laying eggs in the nest she has dug in the sand. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS).

Loggerhead Turtle returning to sea after laying eggs, Mon Repos beach.

The Loggerhead Turtle returns to the sea, watched by enthralled late-night observers. A sea turtle can be aged 30–50 before it begins to breed, and the breeding season might be once in only two to eight years. The hatchlings have a low chance of survival, with only one in 1000 possible reaching maturity. Sea turtles are very vulnerable to human disturbance, so while allowing the public to witness this event, the turtle’s well-being is of paramount importance. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS).

Researchers with Premiere, Mon Repos.

A special turtle is checked by researchers at 3am. Premiere (K33061) was originally tagged as a hatchling at this beach in 1975. She is the first of the tagged Loggerhead hatchlings to be recorded returning to this beach as a breeding adult, and was recorded laying eggs on four occasions during November 2003 to January 2004. I was lucky enough to meet her here in December 2010. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS). 

Loggerhead Turtle Premiere heads back to sea as the eastern sky lightens

Premiere heads back to sea as the eastern sky lightens. Slow and ungainly on land, it was not hard to sense her urgency in returning to the relative safety of the ocean. The more I meet reptiles, the more I like them — we share the planet with some mysterious and beautiful creatures. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS).

Loggerhead Turtle Premiere heads back to sea.

Once the water broke over her, she regained her graceful power and quickly vanished — once more a thing of the vast ocean. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS).

Turtle tracks on beach at dawn.

Dawn soon breaks, revealing the ephemeral tracks of ancient marine reptiles. Photo R. Ashdown (QPWS).


6 thoughts on “Return of the ancient mariner

    1. Robert Ashdown Post author

      Thanks for the comment Marion. That was a great reference link on turtle-riding, a fascinating read. I had suspected that the image was not taken at Mon Repos, as the turtles are Green Turtles, which are more common nesting on Great Barrier Reef islands than the coast (although they do nest at Mon Repos). The information stored with the image at the John Oxley Library though, does list it as being at Mon Repos Beach (young woman riding on the back of a turtle at Mon Repos Beach, near Bundaberg, ca. 1930. Accession number: 6296 Collection reference: API-100 Photograph Album of Bundaberg Album: API-100). Doesn't mean that the data is correct though, as I'm sure you'd know more than I would!

      And yes, I agree that a sensitive and intelligent reptile like a Loggerhead might prefer to be left alone to lay eggs. Probably many, if not all, of the turtle-researchers and rangers I met would prefer to leave them alone too (personally I'd be happy just to know that they are just there somewhere). However, the days for non-human interference with marine turtles have long gone, and any chance of their survival (for Loggerheads anyway) depends on human intervention in key stages their life-cycle. Since a successful survival strategy for turtles must include public education, there's a judgement call there on allowing people controlled access, which of course has plusses and minuses. Doesn't matter what management approach Parks and Wildlife staff take with native fauna, there will always be those who disagree with the approach taken (for e.g. dingo management on Fraser Island), and I guess that has to be expected.

      Thanks again, I will spend some time on your blog, it looks very interesting, really liked your article on kookaburras. Cheers, Robert

  1. Vince

    Hi Robert,

    Great article and I like your conclusion a lot. The time for non-interference is long gone. But no matter how hard they try, people actually leading conservation efforts always get in trouble. I guess it's the nature of the beast. It'll speed up your ascend to sainthood… 😉

    The web site looks great, by the way!

  2. Russell Jenkins

    I've always loved turtles since I was a kid but have never seen them in the wild like this. Little did I know they were so close to home. Thanks for this beautiful article.

    1. Robert Ashdown Post author

      Thanks Russell and Vince, glad you liked the article, and thanks for your comments, most appreciated. Hope all is well in your respective parts of the northern hemisphere. Cheers, Rob.

  3. Pingback: Turtles (and tortoises) all the way | Historians are Past Caring

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