PUTTING THE TURTLES FIRST: MON REPOS’ DEDICATION TO SUSTAINABILITY - Bundaberg Region
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PUTTING THE TURTLES FIRST: MON REPOS’ DEDICATION TO SUSTAINABILITY

As the Southern gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Bundaberg is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole world! Those beaches are home to 50% of the South Pacific’s nesting loggerhead turtles. So it’s no surprise that each year 30,000 people flock to Mon Repos to have an up close and personal experience with these amazing sea creatures.

“It is a very unique experience with the turtles at Mon Repos,” says Lauren Engledow, a Ranger with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service who manages Mon Repos and runs the Night Turtle Encounters during the nesting season (October-March each year). “You get to see them out of the water. So, you're either seeing the hatchlings emerge from their nest and run down to the water or you're watching them as they're digging their egg chamber or laying their eggs. It's also a guided experience, so that means that it's safe for the turtles.”

Mon Repos’ beach has been synonymous with turtles since scientific research began there in 1968. Since then, the staff and volunteers have worked hard protecting and studying these majestic animals. They see first-hand the devastating impact of climate change, light pollution, and plastic waste on turtles. It motivates them to put the turtles first in all their business decisions.

Designed for darkness

Take, for instance, their new Visitor Centre. Completed in 2019, the copper and timber structure sits snug and unimposing in the surrounding landscape. The design is durable and energy-efficient, built with the knowledge that reducing carbon emissions plays a key role in protecting the turtles in the long term. It’s also designed to emit no artificial light in the evenings, something that is incredibly important for the tiny turtle hatchlings that are born on the nearby beach.

As visitors learn during their turtle encounter, hatchlings need a low-light environment to navigate properly from the nest where they are born to the sea where they thrive. They look for the horizon and are easily disoriented by artificial lights, which can sometimes prevent the hatchlings from finding safety in the ocean. The new Visitor Centre, which sits close to the nesting ground, has a number of important low-light features. The blinds, entryways and the position of the windows are calculated so that a very minimal amount of light exits the building during the nighttime operations, allowing the centre to offer visitors an up-close turtle experience without impacting the sea creatures in any way.

“It’s something that we'd love other structures being built in this area to consider,” says Ranger Lauren. The Mon Repos Turtle Centre advocates for locals and visitors alike to follow their lead and keep beaches as dark as possible during the turtle breeding season. Their ‘Cut the Glow’ campaign encourages everyone to switch off external lights and close curtains and blinds after 7.30 pm during October through April each year. Campers on Bundaberg’s gorgeous beaches can also help by using small torches and shaded lights to keep the beaches dark for the turtles.

Advocating for change

The iconic turtle experience at Mon Repos educates visitors about the danger of single-use plastics to turtles, who can easily mistake them for food or get tangled in them in the ocean. As part of a conservation park, Mon Repos has always been conscious of keeping plastics like straws, cutlery, and plastic bottles on-site to a minimum. But they also take that further, by advocating with suppliers to remove plastics from the supply chain.

These conversations aren’t always easy, but they can be powerful. One supplier of jewellery to the centre’s gift shop redesigned their product packaging from plastic to cardboard across all their customers as a result of Mon Repos’ advocacy. Not every conversation is so successful, but by championing sustainable practices with suppliers the centre demonstrates their embedded commitment to protecting Bundaberg’s iconic turtles.

Ultimately, education is the whole purpose of the Mon Repos Turtle Experience. “One thing that we really hope people take away with them is the passion to make a change,” says Lauren. “People can sometimes make an emotional connection to what they're seeing on the night and then have a passion to do what they can in everyday life, whether it's using a KeepCup, or remembering shopping bags at the supermarket, or riding to work where they can."

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Thursday, 08 December 2022

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