Bev and Nev McLaughlan are heading north to monitor turtles coming ashore to nest.
Bev and Nev McLaughlan are heading north to monitor turtles coming ashore to nest. Warren Lynam

Coast couple on a mission to help the turtles

BEV McLaughlan is just wild about turtles.

Turtle jewellery adorns her arms and turtle knick-knacks are scattered randomly throughout her Sunshine Coast home.

So it comes as no suprise to learn that every Christmas the Buderim woman and her husband Nev head north to monitor a 22km stretch of beach during turtle season.

It's a labor of love and one that they've been doing religiously for the past 40 years.

During warm December nights, when most Aussie families are firing up the barbecues and winding down after a busy day, Nev and Bev emerge under the cover of darkness and report for duty.

They're not there to tell tourists to swim between flags or to break up sandy summer trysts, but rather to help ensure the survival of the loggerhead sea turtle population around the Town of 1770 and Agnes Waters.


A newborn loggerhead turtle makes its way to the water.
A newborn loggerhead turtle makes its way to the water. Cade Mooney

Nev's own turtle fever obsession started when he was a student at teacher's training college and met lecturer Colin Limpus - now the preeminent specialist in Australia for turtle research.

The two clicked and Nev and some friends spent the summer learning about this dwindling marine species, how to relocate nests to safer areas and egg handling skills.

That was the summer of 1969 and, according to Nev, he hasn't missed a Christmas since.

It's just one of many passions that he shares with his now wife and partner-in-crime, Bev.

The couple met at a square dance and sparks flew. They're proud to say they've been dancing together longer than they've been protecting turtles.

"I spent eight or nine summers as a volunteer at Mon Repos (near Bundaberg) until Col Limpus took me to Deepwater and we found a species of turtle that had not been previously recorded anywhere else in Australia," Nev said.

"It was the leatherback. We saw the last one back in 1996."

The decline, it seems, can be attributed to the predation of nests along the beach, which is where Nev and Bev are making a difference every Christmas on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

When they first started at Deepwater, foxes were predating 95% of the nests.

These days the foxes aren't a problem but a glut of goannas at the Town of 1770 is.

While Nev is sceptical of the leatherback's return to Queensland, he is cautiously hopeful for the loggerhead - a species that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Mon Repos each year.

"I think the (loggerhead) population has finished its decline and bottomed out," he said.

"There has been a slight rise in numbers, but it's too early to tell if that's trending up.

"Obviously there are concerns of sustaining the population with climate change and changes to the beach. "

Bev pipes up - her trademark turtle jewellery conspicuously absent during their turtle season - and says she and Nev are "rather thrilled" that this year they have an increase in new turtles who have never been to the beach before.

According to the McLaughlans, people all over the world are seeing how important the conservation efforts are to the animals' continued survival.

Their daughter, born on December 21, was gurgling on the beach on December 29 and today works as a marine biologist.

The couple's square dancing friends have also been put to work on Nev and Bev's well-patrolled 22km patch of sand.

It's all in a night's work for them and they wouldn't have it any other way.

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