A Loggerhead Turtle
being rehabilitated at Taronga Wildlife Hospital may help unlock the secret migration
habits of marine turtles.
Subject to final medical
clearance, a young turtle which has been in care for the past year will be
released with a satellite tracker attached to its shell, providing researchers with
valuable data about turtle migration habits.
Hospital Manager, Libby Hall, said: “Very little is known about the journey of
Loggerhead Turtles once they leave Australian shores. They hatch on beaches in
Queensland and are at sea for up to 30 years, before returning to the same
beach to lay their eggs. Where they go and what they do in those years is
pretty much a mystery.”
“This period of a
juvenile turtle’s life is known as ‘The Lost Years’. Its astonishing that these creatures have been
on our planet for more than 200 million years, but there is still so much we
don’t know about them,” said Libby.
Until recently, it was
thought that turtles were swept along with the ocean currents, but research in
the North Pacific has revealed that turtles are not just passive passengers but
some of nature’s most accomplished navigators.
The young Loggerhead
arrived at Taronga Zoo in March 2010 after washing up on Corrimal Beach, in
need of veterinary care.
“The turtle was tiny when it arrived. It could
literally fit into the palm of my hand and tipped the scales around 62 grams,”
It had a fracture to its left front flipper, and over
the past year, which included a stint at Sydney Aquarium, veterinary staff have
been concentrating on ensuring the turtle has full mobility whilst giving it
time to grow larger, ensuring it has best chance of survival in the open oceans.
Thanks to a diet of
squid and shellfish, the turtle now weighs over five kilograms. If the turtle
keeps improving daily, can confidently swim and use its flipper properly, it
will be released off the Queensland coast and its journey satellite tracked. Last
year, Taronga tracked two Loggerhead Turtles which were rehabilitated at the
Zoo and released off Lord Howe Island.
“One of the turtle’s
trackers never sent any data, but the other one swam all the way down to New
Zealand and around the north island. It was so exciting tracking its journey
and knowing where it was. Normally we release the turtles and just hope and
pray they’re doing well, so to be able to see where it was going was
fantastic!” said Libby.
The implications of this
research could be huge. Similar studies have played a vital role in protecting
many marine species. By creating ‘turtle maps’, researchers in the North
Pacific have worked with the fishing industry to reduce activity during peak
turtle migration periods.
There are seven species
of marine turtles and six occur in Australian waters. Marine turtles are listed
as a species of conservation concern in the IUCN Redlist. Main threats to turtles include entanglement
in fishing nets and accidental by-catch of long line fishing. Boat strikes are
May 23 is World Turtle
Day, an international day aimed at creating awareness for these endangered