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One of the best moments for me is watching

people’s faces the first time they see a turtle

nesting. Most people are prepared to stay out

with us two or three hours a night ...”

with Nemo and friends or taking the first step in learning to scuba dive.

From the air, Lady Musgrave Island looks like a kidney-shaped dot

in the largest coral reef system on the planet – the Great Barrier Reef,

bigger than 70 million football fields! Thanks to the tireless work of

billions of tiny organisms known as coral polyps, the Great Barrier

Reef is the only living structure visible from outer space. Stretching

2300 kilometres along Queensland’s coast, it’s not one continuous

barrier but a vast mosaic of 3000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands,

300 coral cays and about 150 inshore mangrove islands. And while

it’s nigh impossible to pick a favourite in a wonderland described by

Sir David Attenborough as “the most magical place on earth”, Lady

Musgrave Island – as those already charmed by her can readily attest –

arguably stakes its claim as the number one camping spot.

Forming a part of the Capricornia Cays National Park and

accessible by charter boat, the coral cay lies 96km north-east of

Bundaberg or 59km east of the Town of 1770 (where Captain Cook

came ashore), not so much ‘as the crow flies’ as a myriad of seabirds.

Indeed, more than 50 varieties visit Lady Musgrave Island, including

sooty and pied oyster catchers, frigate birds, wandering tattlers, brown

boobies and thousands of roosting black and white-capped noddy

terns … to name just a few.

Jim Buck, however, is more interested in another group of visitors

he revels in sharing the island with year after year. Despite witnessing

their arrival countless thousand times, his heart still skips a beat as the

ocean’s grandest of old dames – green and loggerhead turtles – haul

their way on to the beach for nesting/hatchling season from November

to March.

“For me, it’s like coming home,” says Jim, 63, who, with wife

Annie, has spent every Christmas and New Year on the island since

1987, starting when their two daughters, Penny and Cathy, were just

nine and seven. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Aside from leading a group of volunteers who monitor and

collect data on nesting populations of marine turtles as part of the

Queensland Turtle Conservation (QTC) project operated by the

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP), Jim also

steps up as National Parks’ campground host for holidaymakers on

Lady Musgrave Island over the Christmas/New Year period.

Anyone lucky enough to bag a camping permit over the holidays

(up to 40 people can camp on the island for a maximum of 21 nights

at any one time) is in for one helluva life-changing experience.

Jim’s knowledge and passion for turtles and conservation almost

outshines the surrounding Coral Sea’s hypnotic kaleidoscope of

colours, ranging from opal-tinged turquoise to glimpses of emerald

green and the full range of Pantone blues.

Nothing, however, comes close to sitting near his beloved turtles

– true dinosaurs of the sea – lit by the stars as they carefully lay each

precious clutch of eggs. It’s a miracle in itself that any one of them

made it this far, considering a green turtle’s adolescence spans some 35

years but perhaps one in 1000 hatchlings reaching sexual maturity.

“One of the best parts for me is watching people’s faces the first

time they see a turtle nesting,” says Jim, who offers an insightful and

intriguing (#moneycan’tbuy) interpretive service to campers, invited to

observe nesting turtles while his volunteer group go quietly about their

work each night.

“It’s a special moment when people see a turtle actually digging an

egg chamber, using her hind flippers. If I can get folk in to watch that

process they are absolutely amazed. Most visitors are prepared to stay

out with us for two or three hours a night.”

As Jim explains, that’s roughly the time it takes a green turtle to nest

BNE January/February 2017 |

21

Lady Musgrave Experience ‘Sleep on the Reef’

Images unless otherwise credited: Tourism and Events Queensland