Rehabilitated turtle may help unlock species' secrets

Rehabilitated turtle may help unlock species' secrets

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.

Taronga Wildlife

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,”

said Libby.

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

also common.

May 23 is World Turtle

Day, an international day aimed at creating awareness for these endangered