Marine Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation

KRMB October Meeting

Rockingham Regional Environmental Centre (Naragebup) has recently regained accreditation as a Marine Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre with October’s presenter Pauline Whitehead and a band of volunteers on hand to provide aid to any young turtles washed ashore on local beaches. Her talk provided details of the need for such a service and the facilities available at Naragebup.

Pauline started off with a discussion of the types of marine turtles found in WA waters. Loggerhead Turtles are the species most often encountered locally and make up most of the turtles passed on to the rehabilitation facilities. Others are: Hawksbill (under threat due to the shell being used for jewellery in Asia), occasionally encountered in this region; Leatherback, not usually found in local waters; Olive Ridley; Green Sea Turtle, vegetarian after 10 – 15 years, omnivorous before then; Flatback Turtle, the only turtle indigenous to Australia (nests on beaches from Exmouth north), only 4 – 5 have been treated at Naragebup over the years.

The threats faced by turtles include: plastic bags; balloons; ‘ghost nets’ that float around the sea catching diving creatures such as turtles, dolphins and pelagic birds; light dysplasia (artificial lights can disrupt the navigation of young turtles); fishing nets and hooks; pollution; and climate change (nest temperature affects the sex of hatchlings).

Pauline then explained how the young turtles reach Perth waters. The Leeuwin Current is a warm current that flows down the west coast of WA and can push young turtles southwards to southwest WA, where the impact of cold water during winter months can severely inhibit the metabolism of the turtles and leave them susceptible to infections and ‘floating syndrome’. Some are then washed ashore. Pauline explained what to do if one encounters a turtle washed up on a local beach: call the Wildcare Helpline (08 9474 9055) and do not try to put the turtle back into the sea as it would not survive. Wildcare will then contact the closest Turtle Rehab Centre (the three accredited centres are AQWA, Dolphin Discovery Centre, Bunbury and Naragebup).

The conservation efforts that are taking place globally to prevent a further decline in turtle numbers were discussed, some of which Naragebup volunteers have participated in, such as the Flatback Turtle Monitoring Program at Port Hedland. Pauline finished off her talk with a review of turtle rehabilitation at Naragebup. It commenced in 2004 when a bequest enabled the equipment required for rehabilitation to be set up. A total of between 150 and 200 turtles were successfully returned to the ocean in northwest WA during the period it operated. Unfortunately, problems within the management committee at Naragebup resulted in the centre being forced to close and the accreditation being lost. However, since the appointment of a new committee and the reopening of Naragebup, some grant funds have been received and that has enabled the accreditation to be reinstated.

Finally, Pauline took us to see the restored tank systems that are ready to receive turtles. No turtles were received during the past winter, so the tanks are currently empty.

Colin Prickett