When you mention turtles hatching to anyone in Brisbane, Bundaberg is often the first destination that comes to mind. During the turtle hatching season, the Mon Repos Turtle Centre allows groups of visitors to tag along with their volunteers to witness a magic moment.
Seeing wild baby turtles reaching the ocean for the first time must be amongst all nature and wildlife lovers’ dreams.
In Australia, the turtle nesting season starts in November and the hatching season is from January to March. Mon Repos Beach, at the north of Bundaberg, Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island are the three most famous spots to take part in this incredible experience of seeing turtles hatching.
Out of the three, experiencing the turtles hatching in Bundaberg is the cheapest option by far. It’s not as private as on the islands, but it remains a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When is the best time to see turtles hatching in Bundaberg?
You’ll have to travel to Bundaberg during the hatching season, around February and March.
A turtle nest is dug deep in the sand. When baby turtles hatch, they then have to climb in the sand for up to five days before reaching the surface. They would wait until night time to go out and run to the ocean.
So turtles hatching can happen anytime after sunset when the temperature drops to indicate to the babies the night has arrived.
Mon Repos is a highly controlled area to support the conservation of turtles. They close the beach at night during the nesting and hatching season, so the only way to have access to the beach is to book a tour with a ranger.
How to see the turtles hatching in Bundaberg?
To see the turtles hatching in Bundaberg, you’ll need to go to Mon Repos Beach with a ranger from the Mon Repos Turtle Centre.
You will need to book the tour in advance, and even a lot in advance if you are visiting during the weekend. Plus, if you are amongst the first ones to book for the night, you will be in the first group to go on the beach. That’s not a bad idea: we arrived at 7 pm and, as we were in the last group (group 5), it was past midnight when we finally went to the beach!
They make it clear: turtles are wild animals, and you may have to wait for hours for the magic moment – and it also may not happen at all that night. The wait is not unpleasant as the Turtle Centre has interesting displays to learn more about turtles, videos to get you pumped about the experience you are going to live and volunteers to entertain the young ones and help the Rangers.
The experience of seeing wild baby turtles is fantastic.
However, don’t expect a private experience: we were more than 50 people in our group. Still, they manage to give you a close encounter.
When we arrived on the beach, turtles were already waiting for us out of the sand, with a small fence around them. Our ranger Lisa had a microphone to make sure everyone in the group could hear her explanations and her orders to keep the experience safe for the turtles. I was very impressed to see such a big group behaving so well!
A couple of volunteers from the Turtle Centre were here to help Lisa. They grabbed a couple of turtles and showed them around the crowd, making sure everyone could have their own time watching and touching the baby turtle and taking a photo with it. We then formed a guard of honour to direct the baby turtles to the ocean, with a couple of lucky kids chosen to light up the way.
When all the babies had found the sea, most of the group left the beach. Only a dozen stayed with the ranger to watch what happens next. For research purposes, they dig the nest to count the number of eggs that hatched and the number of eggs that stayed undeveloped. Most of the undeveloped eggs stopped at an early stage and were made of yolk, but we had the surprise to have an embryo in one of them! Although it isn’t the best image at all, it is fascinating to see that in real life, and I was very impressed by the curiosity of the few kids that were left. The ranger throws away in the ocean all the eggs to avoid attracting foxes and other predators with the strong smell.
We were lucky to find one turtle left in the nest. She got blocked in a crab hole. It was still alive, so we could watch it going down to the ocean, this time in a much smaller comity. Probably the highlight of the night for the dozen people who stayed.
If you want to learn more about turtles and hatchlings, I recommend reading the Sea Turtle Conservancy FAQ Page.
My Mixed Feelings about the Turtle Centre Experience
I had a mixed feeling about the experience I had that night. For the entire time we spent in the 50-people group, I wasn’t sure if I liked the experience or not. I mean, I was overwhelmingly happy to see baby turtles. And I am glad they open this experience to the public so I could be part of it. And of course, it is great to have a photo with them as a memory. But no news here, I’m not a fan of big groups – especially in one natural place – and I don’t like to disturb animals.
And in that situation, we were not only watching the turtles: the experience involved a lot of manipulation of these newly born wild animals, sometimes for research and preservation, and sometimes exclusively for our pleasure. They do recognise in one of the videos they played that they are criticised by some other bodies for interacting that much with the wild animals. I appreciate the honesty to add that mention in their history; it reassures that they acknowledge it and – hopefully! – weight the risks.
The positive point is that the crowd does have some beneficial impacts: the foxes and crabs will stay away and give a bit more chances to the baby turtles. They say only 1 in 1,000 will become an adult, and they are endangered animals, so some human involvements to help them is a good thing! With their actions, the Centre has helped to stop the decline of the species so we cannot deny they are doing well for the animals.
Also, involving people that much is an excellent opportunity to educate them through this unique experience. All the speeches and activities are adapted for children. Unfortunately, I found they did not do enough of raising awareness, at least during our visit. The photos in the information centre were good for that, but when you hear the questions people were asking when we were on the beach, you quickly realise they did not look at the information centre. From my point of view, it is the speech on the beach that is important to print a message in people’s mind. It’s when they are witnessing this special moment that you can use their emotions to change their behaviour. They are going to be marked by this turtle experience their whole life; it’s an excellent time to give them some key messages to help protect turtles.
Sadly, the focus was too much on light pollution, and they hardly mentioned plastic pollution and easy steps to reduce plastic consumption. Plastic kills turtles and many other animals. I wish they were a lot more aggressive on that topic when they have kids with stars in their eyes lapping up everything they say. Tell them they can save turtles by cleaning the beaches and waterways, not using plastic bags, and not using straws and plastic glasses at their party…
I also found that they were not exploiting enough the number of visitors: the fundraising actions were almost hidden. And when we were picking up some rubbish near the dunes during the day, we found many stickers from the Turtle Centre visitors from the night before. It broke a bit of my heart… I suggested using reusable lanyards instead.
Our Lucky Special Encounter with Baby Sea Turtles
We went back to the beautiful beach of Mon Repos in the morning. We didn’t have high expectations for seeing a nest hatching as this happens at night. We were hoping we might spot some late hatchlings who wouldn’t have found the ocean yet. And it happened. And it was one of the best moments ever.
Of course, it made more sense than ever to clean this beach. We walked along the beach four times and found:
- a dozen stickers from the Turtle Centre
- two cans of soda
- a fishing net
- a bottle cap
- small pieces of plastic
Remember, no one is too small to make a difference!
From Bundaberg, you can also take a day trip to Lady Musgrave to snorkel or dive with the adult turtles.
What about you? What are your most memorable wildlife encounters? Leave a comment below!
Planning a trip to Bundaberg? We camped near Mon Repos when we went there to see the turtles. If you don’t like camping, booking a hotel in Bargara* is probably the best option. For our other trip to Bundaberg, we stayed at Kellys Beach Resort* if which was fantastic to keep a connexion with nature. Also check out Manta Bargara* for a comfortable stay with a spa and a balcony with sea views.
Where the Mon Repos Beach where you can see turtles hatching in Bundaberg?
It takes approximately 15 minutes to drive from Bundaberg to Mon Repos Beach. We stayed in Bargara, the closest town to Mon Repos, only 10 minutes away. Bundaberg is approximately 4.5 hours north of Brisbane. This trip is feasible to go there for one weekend if you leave on Friday night.
If you have more time, the town is also famous for its rum, and the distillery visit was interesting. If you’re a bird lover, check out the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. Bargara also has good snorkelling and diving spots; we had a good time at Barolin Rocks.
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