A turtle laying eggs at Mon Repos beach this month. The first baby turtles will start to hatch in January.
A turtle laying eggs at Mon Repos beach this month. The first baby turtles will start to hatch in January.

Every year something very special happens at Mon Repos

"IF YOU were a teenager here growing up here, your boyfriend probably would have brought you down to the beach to watch the turtles," local turtle expert Col Limpus told me.

Alas, I only arrived two weeks ago from Sydney, where you're more likely to encounter a bluebottle - or a penguin, on a good day - than a turtle.

A late night trip to Mon Repos beach was top of my list to discover what I'd been missing.

On a Wednesday night, 30 of us trod in single file down the boardwalk, young and old, chattering with excitement.

You can make as much noise as you like, our guide Gary Brandon told us - but torches are outlawed, phones are off, cameras are away.

The beach was pitch dark.

"Turtles need a dark environment," Gary explained, before telling us to "wait here".

Soon we got word of a turtle heading up the beach, choosing a spot to lay its clutch of eggs.

Gary, who heads up the newly established Sea Turtle Alliance, is one of a group of volunteers from the Mon Repos Turtle Centre who are dedicated to educating locals and blow-ins alike about turtles and the fragility of their habitat.

Each night, in the midst of laying season which runs from November through to January, volunteers led by head researcher Col Limpus count every egg laid on the beach - dozens of turtles come ashore every night - and make sure they're in a safe spot.

With every cyclone that hits the coast off Bundaberg, our beaches are becoming less and less resilient.

For a turtle depositing its eggs, a safe, dry spot above the high water mark is harder to come by as dune shapes have changed, and eggs often end up lower down.

"We find that the more experienced a turtle is, the better she is at choosing a spot for her eggs," Gary said as we walk down the beach.

Sure enough, there she is: lit up by a torch placed carefully - if not so flatteringly - up her bottom so her enormous shell blocks it from her sight and we can see what's going on.

She's a flatback turtle, rarer than the loggerhead: imagine a small, scaly table calmly digging a hole with its back flippers.

45 minutes never went so fast as we all stared, transfixed, as the eggs started coming and then with no fuss, she flippered the sand back into the hole - and all over a few onlookers, too.

"They are among the most complex animals you can work with," Col said, and there is something special about them.

They seem like dinosaurs, moving at their own pace like they're on a Queensland Christmas holiday.

Col and the volunteers checked the turtle's tag and counted more than 60 eggs.

We each had the privilege of holding them - about the size of a passionfruit and surprisingly heavy.

To top it off, the most magical moment was watching her clumsily waddle down the sand, back to the water - and as soon as she hit the waves, she was out of sight, zooming away in her element.

Around 90% of those eggs will soon be babies hurrying towards the water themselves from January through to March, and you can bet I'll be down to say hello.

It's safe to say I'm turtle-y hooked...See you on the beach!



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