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
“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 |
Lady Musgrave Experience ‘Sleep on the Reef’
Images unless otherwise credited: Tourism and Events Queensland