ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast … Lake Clifton and Preston Beach are happily between here and there

For Hidden Treasures, Ro sent me to get salty and explore an area that hasn’t changed, thanks to sliding door moments and big roads. Let’s hit the road and travel south. Not ‘down south’. Just ‘south’.

The first thing you need to know about Lake Clifton and Preston Beach is that they’re not backwaters.  Just like the thrombolites that lie by the lake, it looks like they’re not doing much but they’ve successfully survived by not doing much and they do it very well. 

Let’s start with the Lake Clifton Caravan Park which if you’re looking to have a quick getaway that includes your dog then this is perfect.  There are a few permanent onsite residents and while most of them are kangaroos and emus there’s a few people who call the park their permanent home. 

I love that their website asks you to make a booking but if you’ve made a last-minute decision as you’re driving past they’ll help fit you in.  It’s that sort of place … very laid back and very welcoming.

The 10th Light Horse Bridal Trail is 45 kilometres long and starts at the Harvey River Bridge alongside Yalgorup National Park and just south of the Harvey Estuary and Kooljerrenup nature reserve.  There are no real hills and if you love your walking and camping, particularly with kids, this would be a good way to spend a long weekend.

The Harvey River

Lake Clifton is a long thin lake that starts just south of Dawesville and ends at Myalup just to the north of Australind.

This is where you’ll find the Thrombolite reef. 

Science says Thrombolites are fragile rock like structures that are the work of microorganisms and represent one of the earliest forms of life on Earth.  But the oldest living culture on earth says they are Waggyaals Noorook, eggs left behind by the creator spirit.

Lake Clifton Thrombolite site

For bush walks the Lakeside Loop is around 5 kilometres and there’s kangaroos everywhere and little blue wrens flitting along the path to make you feel you’re in some sort of nursery rhyme – they’re just magical little birds.

There are several wineries to stop at and taste some local wines and ginger rum.

One of the wineries is even brewing some fierce ales and stouts as well. Ed, from the Thorny Devil Brewery, points out the flavour notes of his stout, slightly less eloquently than maybe Matt Preston would, “You can almost taste your sandshoes in it.” You know I love a good word and a hint to Ed’s age is his use of the word ‘sandshoes’.

There are a couple of great tour operators covering this area:  Mandurah Dreaming is an accredited Aboriginal tour operator and have a tour of the Thrombolites every Saturday from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

Salt & Bush run a Wildlife Nocturnal Tour through Yalgorup National Park that takes in the Lake Clifton and Preston Beach area, including the lakes.

Lime Kilns located in bush next to Lake Clifton are a really interesting example of a sliding door moment for the area.  While dredging and transporting shells from the lake had been going on for a number of years over a hundred years ago, the kiln only operated for two days before they realised the quality wasn’t what was expected when making lime onsite.  So the industry folded and with it much of the settlement, leaving the environment to slowly recover and be seen for what it is today.  

Old Lime Kilns

As you pull into the Preston Beach General Store you’ll notice a couple of signs proclaiming how good their burgers and fish and chips are. This is a general store where I was lucky enough to be looked up and down by a couple of locals sitting out the front and a couple more standing at the counter when I walked in. 

It was assumed I was after bait as I have that rugged, salty fisherman look about me.  A nod of the head indicated where the bait fridge was but I quickly explained I was after a fish burger.  As I waited for the burger, I wandered the store, looking at the range of squid jigs, poppers and burley cages. 

I looked at the thong rack, ready for travellers who need a pair for the beach.  There were sandcastle buckets, jumper leads, crossword books, stubby holders and pocket knives.   

This is the General of general stores.  There was even flotsam and jetsam adorning the front veranda of the store!

Preston Beach General Store. Putting the ‘General’ in ‘general’.

Preston Beach is about 12 kilometres long and perfect to sit and eat the best fish burger in the world. It’s accessible for 4WDs or you can park in the carpark and walk through the dunes to the beach which is great for swimming and more often than not, good for losing your thong in the soft sand – good thing the general store is just up the road.

It can be soft even on the track to the beach so make sure you’re prepared to lower your tyre pressures or the only place you’re going is deep into the sand.

Eat the best fish burger in the world on a beach, from the bonnet of your car, looking out to sea. Perfect.

Lake Clifton and Preston Beach are Hidden Treasures because nothing has changed from when they were both popular, it’s just that a fast road was built that takes you past it. 

They’re still great spots for camping, bushwalking, beach driving and fishing, looking at ancient living things, sipping some very good local wine and brews and eating the very best fish burger in WA from the best general store in WA with a bait fridge bigger than the drinks fridge and the best sign in WA that boldly says “Bloody Good Fish & Chips”. 

The West Australian newspaper: Wildlife Interests Put At Risk …By Us

Originally published by the West Australian and also by the United Nations Indian Ocean South East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding.

I enjoy travelling for the experiences I give my children. To see them wide eyed and able to have sensory encounters is remarkable for the influence it has on their confidence with animals, their imagination when drawing, telling stories and their understanding of the world around them.

I am torn now. I don’t even want them to read this article. Our most recent animal experience may not have been in the best interests of the animal. Our most recent animal experience may not have been in the best interests of the participants, including my son and daughter who received a certificate to acknowledge their achievement.

They had very proudly and reverently each released a baby turtle.

After recently returning from an overseas holiday I had some niggling curiosity, not yet concern, about a turtle release we had participated in.

It’s not important where we did the release, I don’t want to shine a light on the resort or even the country. There are numerous countries world-wide that are offering tourists the opportunity to release a turtle from a beach.

I was curious about what I had been brought up to believe about turtles; that the mature females return to the beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs. If this beach was particularly rocky, or strewn with drunken tourists like some turtle release beaches are, what chance was there of a fully grown female turtle returning to this beach and successfully laying her eggs and what were the chances of survival for any hatchlings?

I mentioned earlier that I don’t want to shine a light on a particular resort or country. I have to make my point by shining a light somewhere though. Let’s start with myself, a tourist.

Over the years my family has experienced close encounters with orangutans, elephants, bears, lions, tigers and even attended a piranha feeding where my children were ushered to the front and invited to pour in a container of live goldfish for the piranha to shred before our eyes, for our …eco education.

I am laying myself wide open by declaring what my family has participated in. I’m not calling for a campaign to save the animals by not participating in eco-tourism activities. I’m not saying all experiences are wrong. I’m not saying eco-experiences can’t have great worth for knowledge, understanding and appreciation for life itself.

I am saying that we need to understand that what we are doing, in some instances, may be wrong.

I have been able to contact marine biologists specialising in turtles in Australia and around the world. I’m writing this article because it was at this point that my curiosity became concern.

I spoke with Dr Colin Limpus, the Chief Scientist for the Threatened Species Unit at the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in Queensland.

Dr Limpus explained that these release programs contravene the biological rule of operation for hatchling turtles.

There can’t be many people who haven’t seen a wildlife documentary showing the plight of little turtles scuttling to the sea. The narrator’s voice informs us of the dreadful survival rate which always seems to be something like, “8 out of 10 hatchlings won’t make it to the water’s edge.” We flinch as various predators pluck them off the sand.

For many cultures, turtles and their eggs are traditional food. As suitable nesting areas continue to decrease this has created an egg poaching industry and black market for turtle eggs and meat. Removing the eggs to a hatchery is certainly reducing the poaching and black market activity.

One turtle release program website says that in the past two years they have taken 50,000 eggs from beach nests and have an 80% hatch and release rate.

So we think that by taking the eggs to a hatchery and releasing the hatchlings at the water’s edge, free from poaching and predation, that we are definitely increasing their rate of survival. It’s what makes this experience feel wonderful. We believe we are helping!

I think we’re wrong.

In my discussion with Dr Limpus he tells me how the hatchling comes out of the nest with an internalised yolk sack that it feeds off for energy over the first three or so days of its life. It’s like an inbuilt can of Red Bull, powering the little turtle down the beach and then swimming nonstop out to sea, maybe as far as 80km before it hits the currents, where it drifts and feeds on jellyfish and other little bits and pieces it finds on the seas highways.

With a scheduled tourist activity like releasing a turtle, the hatchlings are held for a few days to build up enough numbers for the booked participants. By the time they are released the effects of their little Red Bull have worn off and they no longer have the energy to swim the required distance offshore. This means they tend to stay close inshore where they are not exposed to the food they require and may be at increased risk of predation by fish and birds.

By now I was in touch with marine turtle experts from around the world, all responding to my curiosity with photos, essays and opinions.

From the University College of Cork in Ireland, Emeritus Professor John Davenport supported Dr Limpus’ comments, adding that his worldwide marine turtle studies show that most ecotourism interactions with turtles are poor and actually exploit them. Positively, he added that conservation education for children usually leads children to remain conservation conscious for life.

Dr Mark Hamann from James Cook University says that as a parent he understands the conflict between animal welfare, ecological benefit and education. Professor Hamann sees that clearly there are ecological concerns but rarely have the educational benefits of this interaction been examined.

For the Indian Ocean, there is a South-East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding. This is an intergovernmental agreement that aims to protect marine turtles and monitor their habitats.

The Coordinator in Thailand for this group, Douglas Hykle, described to me how a better starting point for our awareness and contribution to the survival of turtles should be with an activity that doesn’t depart from something that occurs naturally.

This is because any change is less likely to be as good as what nature intended. Maybe we should be keeping the nests intact and sitting quietly in our huddled masses as we watch the hatchlings emerge and begin their trek to the water.

My network of marine turtle experts all offered comments to a similar affect; if we teach our children to question and learn from these types of experiences then long term conservation might be in a better place. The resort where my family participated in a turtle release has a strong community focus, employing local people and supporting local conservation programs.  Just like the experts I’ve spoken to, the resort believes in the importance of children having educational conservation experiences.

The relationship we all have with wildlife has come a long way. We now all agree that you can’t have a circus anymore with bears on bikes and whips cracking to goad lions to jump through fiery hoops.

We need to learn more about how we can best have an experience with a baby turtle that is meaningful to us, particularly our children, but more importantly doesn’t upset the balance of a process that’s been around a lot longer than we have.