Turtles turned away as Cairns rehabilitation centre in crisis
A CAIRNS turtle rehabilitation centre has reached capacity and is being forced to turn away starving turtles after an increase in strandings.
Paul Barnes, from Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, said the centre was at capacity with a large number of adult turtles found floating in the Coral Sea.
Mr Barnes said sea grass stocks were depleted and had been only gradually recovering after cyclone Yasi ripped through north Queensland.
"The number of adult turtles (brought to the centre) have increased dramatically," he said.
"Last year was the largest stranding event in Queensland on record. There was a 500 per cent increase last year."
But with feeding grounds slow to recover, Mr Barnes said the centre was seeing stranding numbers return to last year’s levels.
Twelve turtles are being treated at the centre with most rescued over the past three months after the nesting season.
"We have another large (turtle) coming in this afternoon. We are starting to double them up (because) we have run out of tanks," Mr Barnes said.
Christian Miller, also from the organisation, said a turtle had to be euthanased recently because of the lack of tanks.
"Last week we had to knock back a large turtle," he said. "It’s the saddest story but you can only do as much as you can."
A 120kg male green turtle is being treated with antibiotics at the centre in the hope he will battle an infection and start eating again.
Mr Barnes believed the turtle was about 50 years old.
"He appears to have a gut blockage," he said.
"This one was found on June 1 floating off Dunk Island. It’s still too early to tell (if he will survive). The large green turtles can take three months before they feed."
Mr Barnes said a turtle of its size, in a healthy condition, should weigh 150kg and eat about 3kg of food a day.
The rehabilitation centre is the largest of its kind in Queensland and is run by a group of 30 volunteers.
Turtles found starving, with fishing and spear injuries or infected with papillomavirus are often taken to the centre.
Mr Barnes said the centre runs mostly on donations.
"Without raising more money we won’t be able to accept more turtles. It costs around $100-150 a day just for food."
Fisheries Queensland principal scientist Rob Coles said a reprieve could be in sight with sea grass slowly recovering.
"It’s a mixed picture. There’s definitely been an increase (of turtle strandings) because of no food (but) we are seeing some signs of sea grass recovery," he said.
"There is no evidence (sea grass) is in decline. We are hopeful it will keep growing if we keep getting sunny days and clear water.
‘‘As long as we don’t get any cyclone Yasis or Larrys."
For more information visit saveourseaturtles.com.au
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Shell shock: Paul Barnes, from Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, says the number of adult turtles brought to the facility have increased dramatically.