Rising number of sick turtles worries rescue service

Travis the Mary river turtle with Saskia Lafebre at Currumbin wildlife sancturary hospital. Photo: John Gass / Daily News
Travis the Mary river turtle with Saskia Lafebre at Currumbin wildlife sancturary hospital. Photo: John Gass / Daily News John Gass

AFTER the encouraging story of Macs, the green sea turtle released back into the ocean two weeks ago, the Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR) rehabilitation centre in Ballina reports it is overflowing with sick turtles.

The centre stated it already had 14 injured turtles, two more than it has room for, and is concerned for the welfare of the thousands of Macs' cousins left in the wild.

The stranded turtles at the ASR centre are mostly marine green and hawksbill turtles which have fed on plastic, however, their fresh water relatives face similar problems.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary supervisor reptiles and amphibians Saskia Lafebre said the park had several freshwater turtles in rehab including a number of Australia's largest freshwater turtles, the Mary River Turtle.

"The Mary River and other fresh water turtles face the same problems as marine turtles, however, they have some added issues to overcome," Ms Lafebre said.

At this time of the year, the Mary River turtles were looking for nesting sites as it was mating season and this brought the animals in direct conflict with roads and feral animals.

The turtles were also at risk of fishing line and plastics left behind by fishermen, Ms Lafebre said.

Fresh water turtles were slow to reach sexual maturity and produced a smaller number of eggs than their marine cousins.

One of the biggest problems for the freshwater turtles was predation by feral animals such as foxes which could wipe out an entire batch of eggs.

Ms Lafebre said if people encountered freshwater turtles near or on a road, they should take the turtle to the roadside, if this was safe, and point it in the direction it was heading.

People should furthermore ensure they left no fishing line, hooks or any other equipment behind as it definitely put animals at risk.

"It takes up to 20 years for some turtle species to reach sexual maturity and with the low egg count, the animals' reproduction was precarious at best," Ms Lafebre said.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is involved in a captive breeding program to ensure the survival of the Mary River Turtle which after the Western Swamp Turtle is Australia's second most endangered turtle.

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