Remember the character Crush, the Green Sea Turtle in Finding Nemo the movie? He was the cool Turtle that spoke like a surfer and helped Marlin and Dory get to Sydney Harbour… Crush was a very chill dude and is representative of one of the ocean’s most endearing characters…the Sea Turtle. We love them dearly and yet their numbers are declining the world over. Why? Because these amazing animals are seriously threatened by a diverse range of natural and, more significantly, human induced factors. As a result nearly all species of Sea Turtle are now classified as endangered, with three of the seven existing species being critically endangered. So the challenge is on for us to love a Sea Turtle now and help protect these beautiful animals for many years to come!
Enter the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (CTRC). The CTRC is a voluntary non-profit organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation of sick and injured Turtles. The Great Barrier Reef is Cairns’ backyard and is home to six of the world’s seven species of sea Turtles. CTRC treats injured and sick Sea Turtles brought in from the Great Barrier Reef and Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. The CTRC’s Turtle hospitals are located at Fitzroy Island, the Cairns Aquarium, and at James Cook University Cairns campus. Personal commitments and donations from local businesses keep the centre running with more than 300 sick and injured Sea Turtles brought in for treatment over the past 15 years. It was founded in 2000 by Jennie Gilbert and Paul Barnes using their own resources and could not exist without the support of over 90 dedicated volunteers. The CTRC is proud to have a 95% release rate of happy Sea Turtles swimming back in the Great Barrier Reef where they belong…
Sea Turtles are brought in to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre suffering from disease and/or injuries caused by boats, discarded fishing gear, or ingested plastic that is mistaken for food. Many of the Turtles brought in from the Great Barrier Reef are suffering from ‘floaters disease’. This disease causes air to be trapped between the shell and body impacting the Turtle’s ability to dive and feed itself. If left unaided the Turtle will eventually either starve to death or become easy prey for larger predators such as sharks or crocodiles. Turtles brought into the centre from the Cape York Peninsula region often suffer horrific injuries from entanglement in discarded fishing nets ‘Ghost Nets’. Sadly many of these animals are in such bad condition they do not survive. But the good news is that with new initiatives such as satellite tracking, it is now evident that even Turtles that have undergone long periods of rehabilitation are doing well once released, and in some cases quickly covering large distances such as just under 2000km with only 2 opposing flippers and using a tail as a rudder!
It is amazing to think that turtle tracks left on the beach by last night’s visitors could have been found on similar shorelines 150 Million years ago…
The survival of the turtle species we see today is a testament to their ability to adapt and thrive whilst the earth continues to change. But our influence on the Turtle’s environment puts them in great danger and this needs to change. The CTRC are supporting the future of healthy Turtles with their rescue, rehabilitation, research, and education efforts. There are many supporting organisations with efforts to conserve Sea Turtles and their habitats with a focus on education, beach clean-ups before hatching season and massive efforts to eradicate marine debris. Many types of plastic do not biodegrade in the environment and the effects on marine animals can be devastating. Plastic bags, plastic, Styrofoam, tar, balloons, and plastic pellets have been discovered in the stomachs of dead Turtles. Plastic straws is one such enemy and has been effectively targeted by an 11 year-old Cairns schoolgirl, Molly Steer, with her Straw no More campaign, make sure to see her Ted Talk here.
When you are next in Far North Queensland it is possible to meet Shaz, Leilah, Portia and Shelby who are currently undergoing rehabilitation at Fitzroy Island. Carlotta, an adult female Loggerhead Turtle, is the star of the show at the Cairns Aquarium hospital. These Turtle tours focus on both education as well as meeting the loveable Sea Turtles and all proceeds go towards the Turtles care costs. In addition, CTRC relies on donations without which they would be unable to continue this important work. Their team of volunteers love hosting visitors and sharing their stories of the various antics of their current patients. This good work by CTRC of treatment and rehabilitation of sick and injured Sea Turtles is all possible due to the support of visitors, volunteers, and donations. So as Crush would say…”you totally rock!” Make it your goal to love a Sea Turtle now and support CTRC in their wonderful work and include a Turtle Tour on your next visit to Cairns and Far North Queensland…I know it will be the highlight of your Australia adventure!
Sea Turtles are ancient! They have been on Earth for the last 150 million years. Their anatomical feature of a body inside a protective shell has remained the same since they lived amongst the Dinosaurs. Turtles don’t have teeth, so they eat plants and soft marine creatures. Sometimes turtles mistake plastic rubbish for their favourite food such as jellyfish, octopus, and algae. Eating plastic pollution makes turtles sick because their stomach fills with rubbish.
How can I help?
Do not purchase any Marine Turtle products including tortoiseshell jewellery, meat, eggs, or oil. Please support any measures to protect Turtle nesting habitats. Choose sustainable seafood that is caught without impacting Turtles e.g. from fisheries that use Turtle excluding devices. Support marine Turtle research and conservation organisations through volunteering and donation of funds. Watch out for Marine Turtles when boating in waters where they live. They are snorkelers and must surface to breathe air! Reduce marine debris by disposing of all waste properly, especially plastics. Please say NO to: plastic straws, plastic bottles, single use shopping bags & coffee cups as well as balloons. Where possible avoid products that involve micro-plastics. Buy locally and purchase items with less packaging.
Cairns region: What to know:
Cairns is the gateway of Far North Queensland and is less than a 7-hour direct flight from Singapore. Bordered by two World Heritage sites, the magnificent Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Daintree Rainforest, Cairns serves as a great base for an exceptional Aussie holiday. The region is well worth a 5-10 night stay and an absolute MUST is to soak up the magic of both the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. Make sure to also take the time to travel north and enjoy the stunning beachside settings of Port Douglas or Palm Cove, stay in a treehouse in pristine ancient rainforest, cuddle a Koala, sample coffee and chocolates in the Atherton Tablelands, meet the big crocs at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, don’t forget a swim in the fresh-water Mossman Gorge and simply relish in the delights of your tropical destination. This region delivers plenty of iconic Australian experiences.
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