Disney turtle biologist visits Mon Repos
IMAGINE if with a flick of a light switch you could determine the fate of a living thing you may never meet face-to-face - would you turn your lights off?
It's a question Dr Blair Witherington has been asking for decades.
Dr Witherington is a global expert on sea turtles and has arrived in Bundaberg for the first time to visit Mon Repos just as the five-month hatching season starts.
The Disney sea turtle biologist and conservation programs manager is based in Florida.
Florida and Bundaberg may not have too much in common but we share one common trait - turtles nesting.
Dr Witherington has fought hard to educate the Florida community to the benefits of making minor adjustments to their lives to protect these marvellous marine creatures and has seen firsthand the effect an engaged community can have.
About one in 1000 hatchlings survive to become an adult sea turtle, and light pollution plays a pivotal role in these tragic numbers.
Dr Witherington hopes to encourage the Bundaberg community to make some vital changes.
"I know that this kind of community action can make a real difference because I've seen it happen before,” Dr Witherington said.
"What seems like a daunting community effort is actually composed of people taking simple steps in their own interests, which work toward a common goal.”
In Florida, lights are being turned off in key areas, roadway lighting has been replaced and Dr Witherington has seen dramatic results with survival rates for turtles increasing.
"People living in coastal communities can do a home light audit. Take a look at your outside lighting, and switch off or hide lights that shine outside your property,” he said.
At the Barolin Nature Reserve bordering Mon Repos, Greenfleet recently planted 80,000 trees, which will grow into a "green curtain” to help shield light pollution from the city and protect turtle species.
Greenfleet CEO Wayne Wescott said Dr Witherington's visit was significant because it highlighted the global community support for the turtle population.
"Around 30,000 people come to Bundaberg each year to see the turtles nesting here, so saving these animals has benefits for the local community and economy as well as the environment. It's a win-win.”
Dr Witherington is leading two community events as part of his visit at Bargara Community and Cultural Centre: one for the general community today at 6.30pm, and one for the local business community tomorrow at 7.30pm.
He will also be meeting students at Kalkie and Bargara primary schools tomorrow.
Of course, Dr Witherington will be checking out the turtles nesting at Mon Repos.
"I've seen thousands of turtles nesting but I never get tired of it,” he said.