Every year, from early January to the end of March, near the tiny town of Bundaberg, Australia, baby turtles are welcomed to the world by the visitors of Mon Repos National Park. I was worried that my 6 hour trip to this small North Queensland town would all be for nothing, as the park makes it clear that this is nature and seeing baby turtles is no guarantee. However, my fears were quickly put to rest when the ranger told us that tonight was unusual and things were happening very quickly.
Turtles only hatch at night when the sand is cool and the darkness provides protection from predators. The ranger led us quickly down a dark path in the middle of the rainforest, until we came to the edge of the beach. We were told to turn off all of our light sources because the baby turtles are drawn towards the moon and would get confused by any light.
As we stood around the nest, there were no signs of hatchlings until the ranger turned on her flashlight and the tiny turtles came swarming out of the nest. The ranger and a helper collected the turtles and put them into a cage so that no one would accidentally step on them.
Those who had brought flashlights were asked to stand in a line and use their lights to help guide the turtles towards the ocean. As the turtles were set free they slowly scurried towards the water, crawling in between people’s legs, struggling to climb over even the smallest bumps in the sand. Imagine having to run a marathon and then climb Mt.Everest as soon as you’re born!
Scientists know very little about what happens to these baby sea turtles after they reach the ocean and swim for 48 hours straight. These baby turtles will not be seen again until they have swam to South America and back in 16 years. So as they left, we waved goodbye and wished them luck on their top secret turtle business.
Once all the turtles had safely made it to the ocean, the Ranger opened the nest to count and retrieve the eggs for research purposes. In the process of digging up the nest we saved 5 turtles who would not have made it out of the the nest on their own because they were stuck in roots or handicapped. We counted that 108 turtles had hatched, and then found one more little straggler as we were leaving the beach.
Seeing the hatching turtles at Mon Repos National Park was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in Australia (I know I always say that, but it’s true!). And, just as we thought this amazing night was over we headed to the car park and encountered a huge surprise, a 15ft. wild python! Strangely, I was the only one who wanted to get close enough to take a picture…
To end this post I’ll leave you with a joke: What do turtles like to do on their Birthday? Shellebrate!
Happy Birthday Baby Turtles!