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  • Glenn S.

A Bale of Sea Turtles Heads Back to the Big Blue

On Thursday, 6 June, AQWA celebrated the successful release of multiple endangered sea turtles back into the wild!

A Bale of Sea Turtles Heads Back to the Big Blue

In a special collaboration with the Dolphin Discovery Centre, six rehabilitated turtles from both facilities were returned to their natural habitat in Ningaloo Marine Park, Exmouth, WA.

These turtles were found washed ashore on beaches from Walpole in the south to Seabird, north of Perth. Rescued by members of the public, they were brought to purpose-built rehabilitation centres at AQWA and the Dolphin Discovery Centre.

Each turtle has a unique and compelling story, overcoming challenges such as exhaustion and injuries caused by marine debris and other hazards.

Of the six turtles released, Dusty and Hunter were the largest, measuring up to 50 cm in length and weighing over 15 kg each. Their smallest travelling companion, Tommy, was just over 27 cm in length and weighed almost 3 kg.

Remarkably, Dusty, Hunter, Tommy, Jessie, and Bruce each weighed less than 200 grams when they were rescued—about the same as a packet of potato crisps.

With support from the AQWA Foundation, the turtles were flown from Perth to Exmouth, and their release took place more than five nautical miles (approximately 10 km) offshore in the Ningaloo Marine Park.

Safe and secure in special crates, the turtles travelled north under the watchful eye of AQWA Aquarist and Marine Biologist Christine Rawlinson, who has been the primary carer of rescued turtles within the AQWA Foundation's Rescue, Rehabilitate & Release Program for the last 2.5 years.

It was a gratifying yet emotional day for Christine, who is passionate about conserving all sea turtles and the environments they inhabit:

"Being part of an event like this is very exciting, especially with six turtles being released, including Dusty, who's been in our care since October 2022. Dusty was missing a portion of his right front flipper and had lost his entire left hind flipper when he arrived at AQWA. Along with this, there were injuries to his head and eyes affecting his vision, so recovery and rehab have taken some time. We will certainly be sad to see him go; he is such a character, but it doesn't compare to the joy of knowing this will be the beginning of his lifelong ocean journey."

The release was a collaborative effort undertaken by AQWA and the team at the Dolphin Discovery Centre, with the generous assistance of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and Attractions (DBCA). This represents each organisation's efforts to conserve Western Australia's endangered and critically threatened sea turtle populations.

Laura van Oyen, Conservation Manager at the Dolphin Discovery Centre, said, "It is wonderful to be part of this special project, to witness the collaboration of everyone involved, and to know that the dedication and efforts of our staff and volunteers have contributed to the conservation of this threatened turtle species."

Catherine Buckley, AQWA's General Manager, added, "We are thrilled to be part of these turtles' journey back to their natural habitat, where we are sure they will continue to thrive. The cooperation between AQWA, the Dolphin Discovery Centre, DBCA, and the Commonwealth (Parks Australia) represents our commitment to safeguarding marine life, highlights the positive impact of these conservation efforts, and shows what can be achieved when we all work together."

Each year, juvenile turtles are carried ashore during winter storms and by the movement of the Leeuwin current along WA's coastline. Community members are reminded to call the Wildcare Helpline on +61089474 9055 and visit AQWA's Turtle Rescue Hub for information on what to do if you discover a sea turtle washed ashore.


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