Sea turtles suffering more injuries, illnesses as sea temperatures rise, expert says
Injured green sea turtle Hercules swims with his carer Daniel Costa. (ABC News: Dijana Damjanovic)
Australian turtle conservation organisation AusTurtle has asked people on the water to be alert for sea turtles, following a rise in sick and injured animals.
- Warmer sea temperatures cause turtle food sources like algae and sea grass to die
- That forces turtles to move around more, which makes them vulnerable
- A sick turtle floats to the surface, which exposes them to boat strikes
In a rehabilitation pool in Darwin, Hercules, a 55-kilogram green turtle floats awkwardly.
Over the weekend he was discovered washed up at Dinah Beach boat ramp, a popular launching spot into Darwin Harbour.
Hercules has a deep cut to his shell consistent with a propeller injury, and vets are concerned he may have also swallowed a plastic bag.
He is just one of the many sea turtles being brought to the turtle rehabilitation centre at Charles Darwin University with similar injuries.
Hercules’s intestines are filled with gas, which is preventing him from eating and defecating. (Supplied: Charles Darwin University)
Hercules is given antibiotics and a special massage by his carers every day.
But one of his carers, Daniel Costa, is worried he will not make it.
“He’s doing OK but we are a little concerned because he hasn’t passed that blockage yet,” Mr Costa said.
Hercules’s intestines are filled with gas, which is preventing him from eating and defecating.
Rise in turtle injuries
High sea temperatures in Australia’s north are leading to more sea turtles getting sick and injured, according to Mick Guinea, chair of AusTurtle.
“The warmer waters tend to knock the algae and sea grass around, and so you have a die-off of food sources for green turtles and that makes them more vulnerable to moving around more,” he said.
Dr Mick Guinea, Chair of AusTurtle Inc, said there has been a rise in turtles getting sick and injured. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
Man-made changes to their environment are also presenting a danger.
“We still have a problem with debris in the water, whether its plastic bags, drinking straws, containers, plastic bottles or balloons,” he said.
Turtles regularly eat the items, causing serious complications and in some cases early death.
“A balloon can be very attractive to a sea turtle looking for a jellyfish and these are the sort of the things leading to turtles being impacted by people,” Dr Guinea said.
Once a turtle becomes sick, its response is to float to the surface.
Biscuit the sea turtle is recovering after being dropped onto a fishing trawler by a bird. (ABC News: Dijana Damjanovic)
“If they’ve been sick or are eating poor food, they produce gas, and that puts them in the path of shipping and boats,” Dr Guinea said.
“Then you get a second injury as a result of that.
“That is what we are seeing here at the rehab centre.”
The Darwin facility is the only rehabilitation centre of its kind for turtles found in waters from Cairns in Queensland to Exmouth in Western Australia.
AusTurtle is using this latest wave of patients to remind people on the water to be aware or turtles on the surface, and to take any injured or sick turtles to the nearest vet.
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