Tracking Turtle Recovery

Bob Irwin, from Australian Wildlife, with Jennie Gilbert during "Princess" MRI scan to check for broken bones. Photo by Jennie Gilbert.

Tracking Turtle Recovery

Rehab is not just for the rich and famous. Rescuing sick and injured sea turtles has become something of a crusade for turtle researcher, Jennie Gilbert, and marine biologist Paul, at Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

As well as treating injured turtles from the Great Barrier Reef, the centre nurses turtles from western Cape York Peninsula that have received injuries from entanglement in ghost nets. Rehabilitating these turtles is not easy, as they need to be flown to Cairns, receive professional veterinary care and then be rehabilitated for up to two years. Once recovered they are returned to the area they were found.

Treating these turtles is certainly a labour of love as the rehabilitation centre relies solely on donations, a dedicated team of volunteers, the generosity of Qantas link, the ground crew from Australian Air Express and the vet staff, to keep it running. Despite this challenge, the centre has successfully managed to treat more than 80 turtles during its ten years of operation, and its rehabilitation success is impressive.

Two of the Centre’s success stories, Jewel and Princess, have also been monitored using satellite tracking system to gauge the success of their recovery. These are the first two turtles to pioneer this research.

Both of these turtles were found on the Pennefather Beach, west of Weipa, so seriously injured they required surgery. When Jewel arrived at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation clinic her right flipper had been worn down to the bone and her left flipper had two broken bones. Princess had one flipper almost amputated.

Once both turtles were fit and healthy they were returned to the ocean at Pennefather Beach, with their satellite trackers fitted. Princess swam over 1900km in 132 days(14.4km/day) demonstrating just how successful her treatment had been, while Jewell swam a more sedate 1790kms in 138days (12.9km/day).

Story by Jennie Gilbert.