We decided that the evening of the last day of school was a perfect time to schedule our tour--no need to worry about waking up early in the morning if the turtles didn't show up until after midnight.
No worries, a turtle showed up a mere thirty minutes after we arrived!
The kids were not big fans of the walk to the turtle's location--the beach is almost pitch dark (lights confuse the turtles), and we actually had to stop a few times to let more sea turtles cross the beach in front of us. Then one of those sea turtles decided that she really wasn't in an egg-laying mood, so she turned around at the top of the beach and made her way back into the ocean. It's pretty neat to watch the "dark rock" moving along in the darkness, but kids aren't the best at waiting for things to happen at a turtle's literal pace. :)
Eventually we made it to "our" sea turtle, who was in the process of digging her nest hole. That's kind of fun to watch because she uses her back legs to reeeeeeach down, scoop up sand, and then brings it up and flings it out to the side. Then the egg laying happens and it's just really neat. Once she's in her egg-laying trance, you can take pictures all you want...at least until another sea turtle pulls up beside your group and you can't have any lights on for fear of confusing that one as well.
Our turtle laid her eggs in a somewhat unsafe zone, so once she returned to the ocean, the park volunteers dug up the eggs (all 132 of them!) and asked us to help transport the eggs to a safer location.
I took two eggs to the new nest myself, but then spent the rest of the time sitting next to Michael on the beach because he was holding a sleeping Monkeyboy. Oh, the stars...with no light around to diminish them, it was breathtaking--I saw clusters around Orion that I've never seen before.
While we were sitting, another sea turtle pulled its self up alongside us, about forty feet away, but then she spooked and high-tailed it back to the sea. The park volunteers have to keep track of each turtle that visits the rookery, regardless of whether they lay eggs or not, so they had to run after it before it got back to the water, which is just hilarious when you think about it. The turtles are so big and powerful that it takes two men pushing against them to make them stop long enough to do a tag check. In the case of this fleeing turtle, only one guy caught up to it at first, and was rewarded with being pushed backwards towards the ocean until his mates caught up. It was such a weird thing to witness!
On the way back we had to stop two more times to allow safe turtle crossings, and walked over quite a few turtle trails in the sand. It's just so awesome to see all that!
We were prepared to spend hours upon hours at the rookery, but we pulled back into our driveway at 10pm, which is great when you have four young kids. Had we decided to stay longer here in Australia, I was looking forward to going back to witness the little hatchlings make their way to the sea.
Each female will lay five batches of eggs over the course of eight weeks or so, with about 120-200 eggs in each batch. The hatchlings emerge in 6-8 weeks, and it's estimated that 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood. (Ouch.) The temperature of the sand where the eggs are laid determines the gender of the hatchlings. Warmer sand means more females, cooler sand gives you more males.
Our particular turtle was first tagged at Mon Repos in 2005, laid eggs at Mon Repos again in 2011, and this was her first nesting this year.
Way cool. Best thirty bucks I've ever spent.