Turtles come out of their shell early for nesting season

Local school students celebrate the Ringing of the Bells, welcoming turtles to Mon Repos for nesting.

One of the world’s most important nesting sites has welcomed its first turtle a month earlier than expected, kicking off a significant time of year for Bundaberg tourism as the region continues its Covid-19 economic recovery.

Bundaberg MP Tom Smith said on Saturday night, 9 October, the first flatback turtle arrived on the shores of Mon Repos, 30 days ahead of schedule for this year’s nesting season.

“This is a big time of year for our tourism operators, with Mon Repos’ nightly tours often welcoming 12,000 visitors each season,” Mr Smith said.

“We expect plenty of people to come visit after the Palaszczuk Government delivered the $22 million redevelopment of the turtle centre and expanded the conservation area by another 42 hectares.

“It’s the flatback turtle that usually starts off the nesting season at Mon Repos and this is the earliest recorded beginning to nesting season on the Woongarra Coast.

“To mark the arrival of the first turtle, our community has a long-standing tradition of ringing church bells.”

The Ringing of the Bells was held on 12 October at the St Peter’s Anglican Church, Bargara.

This time is also used as a valuable educational tool for local schools, including St Luke’s Anglican School, which is proud to be a ‘turtle school’, regularly taking part in World Turtle Day celebrations, having student eco-champions working to stop pollution and save turtles and involved in several programs including Turtle Rangers, Ringing of the Bells and Cleaner Greener Bundaberg.

This annual event was also recognised by Bargara State School students, who have a close connection to their local environment and conservation with a focus year-round on protecting the environment through their Reef Guardian Program.

Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the ringing of the bells would be music to the ears of tourism operators, with the local economy recovering from the impacts of Covid-19.

“We’ve been prepping for this much-loved time of the year with the installation of 446 new solar panels to power the popular tourism destination almost entirely off renewable energy,” Ms Scanlon said.

“More than 30,000 people visit the Mon Repos Turtle Centre each year – promoting the importance of protecting our turtles and injecting valuable dollars into the local economy – and the electricity used to power the interactive displays, research and turtle encounters are now driven by solar energy.

“It’s part of our record $1.4 billion investment to protect the environment and support jobs as part of our economic recovery plan for Covid-19.”

Flatbacks generally lay between 50 and 60 billiard ball-sized eggs.

Mon Repos Acting Ranger in Charge Nicole Murnane said the ringing of the bells was based on an ancient Scottish tradition to welcome fishing boats returning to port.

“Now, the sound of peeling bells is a tradition that Bundaberg locals and tourists look forward to each year to signal the start of turtle season,” Mrs Murnane said.

“We’re hoping the bells will herald another busy nesting season.

“Last year 352 turtles migrated to nest on the Woongarra Coast and more than 12,000 people joined in our turtle tours at Mon Repos.”

Mon Repos supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and has the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific region.

The success of nesting and hatching turtles at Mon Repos is critical for the endangered loggerhead turtle’s survival.

Mon Repos Turtle Encounter is the only ranger-guided turtle encounter available on the east coast and is instrumental in turtle conservation.

Visit the Mon Repos Turtle Centre website for more information.