Ancient Scottish tradition to signal return of turtles
THE chiming of church bells will ring out tomorrow morning to welcome the return of Bundaberg's favourite annual visitors, the marine turtles which come to nest at Mon Repos.
Sharp-eyed visitors to the Mon Repos Family Fun Day on Sunday morning saw tracks on the beach which were quickly identified as belonging to a flatback turtle which had slipped ashore sometime on Saturday night to nest.
In accordance with local tradition Bundaberg's Anglican Christ Church will ring its bells in welcome, with Junior Turtle Ranger students from St Luke's Anglican School assisting Father Iain Furby in the ceremony which will begin at 10.30am.
The bells will also ring out at St Peter's at Bargara, St John the Divine at Burnett Heads, and St Andrew's and St John's in Bundaberg. They will be joined by a number of schools that will be welcoming the return of the turtles by dusting off their school bells.
Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said the first turtle of the season was eagerly awaited by the local community, and by the researchers, volunteers and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers based at Mon Repos.
"It's an ancient Scottish tradition to herald the return of the fishing fleet by ringing the church bells and the excitement everyone feels at the return of our own seafarers each year is echoed in the bells of Bundaberg," Dr Miles said.
Father Furby said Junior Turtle Rangers in Prep R at St Luke's Anglican School loved learning about the turtles and were working together to teach others about cutting the glow to help keep beaches dark for turtles.
"Being able to have some students go to the Christ Church to ring the bells is a nice reward for all their hard work," he said.
Dr Miles said the arrival of the first turtle at Mon Repos was a timely reminder for coastal residents and businesses to look at their lighting and assess what could be turned off or placed on timers to help keep beaches dark for the turtles.
"Light from the shore can discourage female turtles from nesting and disorient hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean so the Junior Turtle Rangers from St Luke's are spot on - cutting the glow makes a real difference to marine turtles," he said.
Meanwhile further north, researchers from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) are keeping close tabs on green turtles starting to arrive on Heron Island to lay their eggs in the sand with the first arrival recorded on Thursday, 15 October.
EHP researchers and volunteers will tag and record data about the nesting turtles but many of the nesting beaches in Queensland are not monitored and Dr Miles called on members of the public to help keep track of this year's activity.
"These beaches in south and central Queensland make up one of the most important breeding areas for marine turtles in the world and EHP researchers are particularly interested in the status of the endangered loggerhead turtles," Dr Miles said.
"This is where the general public can help. If you spot a turtle nesting or its tracks on the beach, EHP wants to know about it and a photograph can assist staff in positively identifying the species.
"We have yet to see a loggerhead but they are expected to start arriving any night now."
Dr Miles said the numbers of nesting turtles would increase until about late December - early January and then decline to the end of the nesting season in April.
Hatchlings are expected to emerge from the nests about eight weeks after the eggs are laid.
To take part in this year's Turtle Watch, report turtle nesting events by emailing the date and location and, if possible, a photo of the turtle or its tracks to firstname.lastname@example.org.