Chasing turtles around the world

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words by Lauren Hughes

Lauren Hughes recently responded to our call out for volunteers to help create content for our comms! She is passionate, inspiring and adventurous and keen to share inspiring stories. Let’s start with her story… Who is Lauren?

I grew up in Brisbane, QLD but I’m currently living in Torquay, home to Bells Beach, Victoria. When not in lockdown or under COVID restrictions, I fill my spare time with snorkelling, sewing, longboarding and roller skating. I’ve always been a nature lover and try to do my bit for the environment. 

Last summer, I worked as a Ranger with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, based at Mon Repos Conservation Park. Where’s that? Mon Repos is a slice of paradise on the Woongarra Coast, just east of Bundaberg. The 1.7km stretch of beach is a globally significant sea turtle rookery! It supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern seaboard of mainland Australia and is the most significant nesting site for the endangered loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific Ocean. Without Mon Repos, it’s likely that the already endangered loggerheads would be in trouble.   

Lauren Hughes with a loggerhead turtle covering her newly laid clutch of eggs at Mon Repos

Working as a Ranger at Mon Repos was something I was determined to achieve. I had volunteered with sea turtles in Costa Rica, in the Whitsundays and on Lady Elliott Island, and after volunteering with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service in Brisbane after graduating from university, I scored my first ranger job. So, you can imagine this job was a dream come true.

It’s not just the turtle action that makes Mon Repos special. There are so many people dedicated to protecting the turtles, conducting research and educating visitors. Each year between October and April, a huge team of rangers, researchers and 100s of volunteers turn nocturnal, staying up into the early hours of the morning. Teams patrol the beach every night, initially looking out for the adult females who haul themselves out of the water to lay eggs, and later in the season, looking for the little hatchlings emerging from the sand and dashing for the ocean. After the hatchlings have left the nest, the teams must dig up the (sometimes smelly) nests to get an idea of how many of the eggs successfully hatched. 

These turtle-crazy people ensure the turtles and their nests are protected, which helps to safeguard future populations. Data collected here supports the Queensland Turtle Research Program that has been running for over 50 years! Over the years, this research has informed management decisions, including the introduction of new marine parks and the installation of turtle excluder devices on fishing trawlers.

Mon Repos is also open to visitors who come from far and wide to witness this ancient turtle nesting ritual. So, another big part of the job is delivering educational ‘Turtle Encounters’ tours each night. This clever balance of research, tourism and education allows people to see and learn about the turtles in a way that causes no disturbance to them. The aim is to inspire people to be a part of turtle conservation in their own lives and spread the word about the many threats these endangered creatures face.

If you are turtle mad, keen to gain some work experience or want to be a part of an awesome group of people, definitely check out the volunteer opportunities available!

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