The Taronga Wildlife Hospital treats an average of 40 marine turtles each year that have been washed up on beaches or found floating, unable to swim in the sea. The task of rehabilitating and releasing these animals along with hundreds of other native animals that come into the hospital’s care is the task of Taronga’s veterinarians and nurses.
Turtles often mistake people’s rubbish for food and eat it, swallowing things like plastic bags, balloons and bottle tops we leave behind to be consumed unknowingly by these animals, sometimes with fatal consequences. This rubbish can then cause the turtles to float making it hard for them to feed and reason that many turtles are unfortunately injured by boats.
Wildlife Hospital Manager, Libby Hall, says that theyospital receives often see many plastic bags and other pieces of hard plastic in the turtle’s guts along with pieces of rope, ribbon, fishing line and netting. Turtles also become entangled in crab pots, netting and most commonly, fishing line. The nurses often see deep cuts from fishing line which sometimes even wraps around the turtle’s head.
Once admitted to the Taronga Wildlife Hospital, the turtles are given a full veterinary examination and in many cases are put into intensive care to ensure their health improves. When well enough to clear intensive care, they are moved into rehabilitation pools to get them ready for release. This involves eating well, gaining weight and swimming and diving proficiently.
It’s exciting that once released, some of the rehabilitated turtles can contribute further to human knowledge of their species. Two of the Wildlife Hospital team are tracking juvenile Loggerhead Turtles with assistance from the National Marine Science Centre, Marine Turtle Research Program in Hawaii. The research findings will hopefully solve the mystery of the “lost years” – finding out where juvenile loggerheads go after they leave their nesting beaches in Queensland, returning 30 years later as adults. Tracking the movements of these turtles using satellite transmitters may help to influence the position of fishing trawlers in the Pacific and in turn reduce the by-catch mortality of turtles in the southern Pacific Ocean.
Everyone can help preserve marine turtles and their habitat by responsibly disposing of rubbish such as fishing line and hooks, plastic bottles, bags and netting. Taronga supports the ‘Take 3’ campaign which encourages everyone to take three pieces of rubbish from beaches and river edges and dispose of used fishing gear in rubbish or TAangler bins. You can also make a positive difference for all marine life by making more sustainable seafood choices. Visit our Facebook page to find out more and make your pledge towards sustainable seafood or download the credit card-sized wallet guide to help you in choose sustainable fish when shopping.