Samantha Wheeler shares the inspiration behind Turtle Trackers…
While researching I came across a newspaper article about foxes destroying turtle nests on Stradbroke Island. Members of a local wildlife group were taking turns sleeping on the beach to keep foxes away – every night for six weeks, in the heat of summer – which had me thinking, Could I create a character as dedicated as they were? To find out more, I took the Tilt Train from Brisbane up to Bundaberg, to visit a wonderful turtle centre at Mon Repos.
Excited for the turtle tour, my family and I checked in to the caravan park we’d booked, only to find it was windy, rundown and a long way from the centre. Disappointed, we wandered down to the beach, which was too choppy for swimming, and happened to see a big green turtle waddling up the dunes. We kept our distance, so although my dad went nuts with the camera, the turtle didn’t seem to mind. What really struck me was how wide and distinctive her tracks were – so specific to a turtle rather than any other creature. The words ‘turtle tracker’ popped straight in to my mind.
Then, when we took the actual turtle tour that evening, my inspiration was complete. Seeing my niece’s face as we crept along the beach in the dark, hearing her whisper in excitement, and having her small hand cling to mine: it was wonderful! Not to mention the privilege of seeing wild turtle hatchlings poke their heads up out of the sand for the very first time.
While writing Turtle Trackers, I had lots of help from rangers and researchers, who explained how bright lights near nesting beaches disorientate turtles, and how plastic bags, straws and boat propellers all pose threats to their survival. I also visited Hawaii, where green turtles bask on the beaches, and discovered, like other issues for the environment, the biggest hope for positive change lies with young people. So I invented the character Isaac, a young boy who lives in a rundown caravan park, miles from the popular turtle centre, where the beach is too windy for swimming. Once Isaac discovers a turtle nesting on the beach, he is desperate to help save them. Without giving too much away, he may or may not have an encounter with an egg-stealing fox!
As always, I fell in love with the animals featured in this story, and I’m hoping readers do too.