We are massive Save the Turtle fans around here! And Ilah’s mission to save the turtles has led us on some pretty epic adventures so far. But, while in Cairns recently, we came across not one, but two wonderful places working hard to save the turtles and protect our marine environments. We were lucky enough to visit the James Cook University marine research facility and find out about the research they are doing into seagrass beds (a major feeding site for the Green turtles that live in the tropical waters of North Queensland). Followed by a trip to Fitzroy Island to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
At James Cook University we were able to wander through the research aquarium. We saw tropical reef fish, lots of different corals, a wobbegong shark, two juvenile Green turtles, seahorses, stonefish, and a crocodile. Research is being conducted in lots of different areas to do with the health and vitality of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as finding medical treatments for things such as stonefish poisoning.
The research we were most interested in, though, was to do with seagrass. A team of researchers travel all over North Queensland monitoring seagrass health and supply. They monitor the effects of mining and farming run-off. As well as working with land-based mining projects to cease/pause operations if it impacts the seagrass. North Queensland is home to six of the world’s seven sea turtle species, so it is vitally important that the seagrass beds along the coastline are in tip-top shape.
The impact of plastic on the turtles in our oceans
Our next stop after James Cook University, was to the beautiful Fitzroy Island to check out the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. The Turtle Rehab Centre currently provides care to six turtles, with another four turtles in the intensive care centre back on the mainland. On the day we visited, we were fortunate enough to meet with one of the Turtle Rehab team members, Barb, who introduced us to all of the turtles in their care and explained why each turtle was at the centre.
We knew that plastic pollution was a problem before our visit, but to meet four turtles all in various stages of recovery from ingesting plastic was absolutely heartbreaking. It really cemented for Ilah (and all of us) why her mission is so important.
We met a lovely old Mumma Green turtle who needed to put on another 30 kg before being released after ingesting plastic rubbish in the ocean. The turtle, who is estimated to be close to 100 years old, was being stubborn though and refusing to eat on the day of our visit.
Then there was another gorgeous lady who will spend the rest of her life living at the centre. When turtles ingest plastic it causes air bubbles or pockets to form in their system. They are unable to dive or feed properly while the rubbish is in their body. The damage caused to this Hawksbill Turtle has left her lungs in a state similar to emphysema. The air pocket is now a permanent part of her life. She swims lopsidedly around the surface of the tank, unable to dive, and therefore, feed herself in the wild.
We also met a cheeky fellow who had lost a flipper to a ghost net. After becoming entangled in the net, panic set in, and the young male Hawksbill Turtle struggled against the net. The rope eventually cutting his flipper off. He is slowly improving and, once fit and healthy, will be released into the wild.
Why we need to change…
While these stories are heartbreaking, there is a sense of hope for change and a better future for the turtles. In August this year, a lovely young Green turtle, named Watson, will be released back to the ocean. Many other turtles will be released as soon as they are fit and healthy again. And with the introduction of things such as Plastic Free July, more and more people are hearing the message to change their plastic consumption habits and help our planet and all of its inhabitants.
Ilah has made a promise to help the turtles get healthy and back to their homes in the ocean. For every Save the Turtle bag purchased she will donate 100% of the proceeds to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. On average it cost $150 per week to feed and house each turtle. The turtles can be in the centre for months at a time while they recover. And in some cases, live the rest of their lives there, all because they mistakenly ate plastic rubbish. This Plastic Free July, do your part… because one small change in your daily habits could end up saving a turtle’s life.