For twenty years Judi Giarola has lived in Moore Park Beach and for just as long she has dedicated countless hours to turtle research and conservation.
Judi’s role in establishing the Moore Park Beach Turtle Monitoring Group, along with her willingness to help the community where she sees the need, has seen her named Bundaberg Regional Council’s 2022 Australia Day Award Senior Citizen of the Year.
It was a turn of fate which first set the 71-year-old and her partner Verne Cook on their journey to protect endangered marine turtles almost as soon as they moved to the region.
“We went down to the beach and saw turtle tracks and had never seen them before in our lives, but knew immediately what it was,” Judi said.
“And we thought how blessed we were to have chosen a place to live that had turtles nesting.
“It was only a short time, a few days later, that we had massive erosion events happen out here.
“When we went for a walk, we saw turtle tracks leading up to the top of a major erosion face, and we assumed it was a nest right at the bottom of the erosion face with an incoming tide.
“I ran home and rang Mon Repos, and I was fortunate enough to speak to Dr Limpus. He was able to give me very precise instructions on what to do to move that nest, to save it - and we did that.
“He did ask us to get back to him with the number of eggs in the clutch. We had 178 and to this day, after 20 years, that is still the largest clutch that we've had laid at Moore Park Beach.”
From that incredible first encounter, Judi and Verne were trained by Col Limpus and for a couple of years singlehandedly patrolled the surrounding beaches, relocating turtle nests whenever necessary.
Today, the Moore Park Beach Turtle Monitoring Group has grown its membership and expanded its reach.
“We have seven people who are able to operate in their own right … then we have probably another eight to 10 people who really put in and are learning the ropes, which is wonderful.
“The commitment shown is absolutely incredible. This award, I feel, is their award as well."
“We would be monitoring about 20 km of beach now, and that is to the Kolan River in the north and over the Moore Park Creek to the south for approximately about 4 km south of the creek.”
During turtle season, Judi personally spends at least six hours a day “on turtle business”.
This includes night walks and activities, daytime nest checks and maintenance, predation control, emergence recording, data input and collation.
All reporting is shared with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Burnett Mary Regional Group.
“As far as the timeframe goes, the morning crew are on the beach at first light - that’s somewhere between 4.30 and 5 am - and they patrol 9 km of beach, the same 9 km every single morning in turtle season rain, hail or shine.
“And the night crew, when we're patrolling, depending on the number of teams that we have, we cover as much beach as possible and as often as possible.”
Judi willingly shares her passion for turtle conservation with the community, including school groups and the local Scouts.
“In our lifetime, if we don't do anything, we could see them disappear.
“So I will do anything, and I'm sure that our team would do anything, to do our part.”
With a background in physical education and the science of human movement, Judi also volunteers five hours per week to prepare and deliver free stretch classes in Moore Park Beach and online.
The classes promote movement and building strength and balance.
“We now have a huge group of people that are participating and the best thing about it is that I see improvement in all of those people all the time.
“Just to see the joy on their face when all of a sudden they can do something that they couldn't do, that is just amazing to me.
“It's so rewarding.”
Judi was also able to organise a Covid-safe Anzac Day dawn service on the beach to ensure commemorations could still go ahead.