Have you ever seen a turtle up close. They’re hard to spot in the wild, but your chances improve at this time of year when they’re coming on to beaches to lay eggs. I got to hang out with four very lucky turtles on Saturday, at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island, about an hour boat ride from Cairns. I met Splash, Bertie and Barney – green turtles – and Angie, who is an Olive Ridley turtle.
These turtles are lucky to be alive. The Rehab Centre has been caring for sick and injured turtles since 2000 at a facility in Cairns, and more recently at the new centre on Fitzroy Island.
Turtles are brought in from all over the far north, injured by encounters with boats, trawlers, discarded fishing nets, and with predators. Many turtles are brought in with floaters disease, basically a gut blockage that prevents the turtle sinking down to feed in the sea grass. In the wild, they would probably starve. Treating floaters disease is not easy, but the Turtle Rehab Centre says 85 percent of its turtles go back to the wild, up from 30 percent a few years back. Floaters can be caused by turtles eating things that just shouldn’t be in our seas, like plastic bags.
The Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre is a not for profit organisation, with a crew of volunteers feeding and caring for the turtles each day. If you’re on Fitzroy Island, head for the Centre and if the roller door is up, head in and say g’day to the turtles and the volunteers.