Three green sea turtles were released today at Flat Rock near Ballina after months of rehabilitation by the Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR) team.
Two of the turtles, Byron and Ivanna, were found by National Parks and Wildlife officers at Iluka, suffering from float syndrome, while Kim was discovered at the boat channel at Lennox Head weighed down by barnacles.
ASR volunteer Tiffany Lee said the release was a great accomplishment because sea turtles had just a 1 in 1000 survival rate, and were classed as an endangered species.
‘We’ve gone from having healthy numbers of these turtles to them being endangered in our lifetime so any that we can return to the ocean are very lucky,’ she said.
‘Unless they are females who have reached sexual maturity the turtles that come to shore have come to die so we not only have to make them healthy again, but work on their psychology so that they regain the will to live.
Ms Lee said Byron and Ivanna were adolescent turtles, while Kim was in her twenties.
“Kim was suffering badly with barnacles which slowed her down.
‘The barnacles attach themselves to a sick turtle and gradually burrow inside and start eating the turtle so it’s important to get them off.
‘Float syndrome is usually caused if the turtle eats plastic, which reacts in its gut and lets off gas which makes the turtle float.
‘The only time a turtle should come to land is a nesting female and she will create her nest within two kilometres of where she was born after spending 45 to 50 years out in the ocean.’
As part of their rehabilitation, the young turtles have been eating plenty of squid to gain weight.
‘As they grow they eat things like sea sponge, squid, soft shell crabs and prawns but as they get older they become vegetarian and eat sea grasses, which give them their greenish colour’.
Prior to their release, the turtles were tagged so that they can be identified if they come ashore again, or are spotted by scuba divers.
‘Members of ASR go out to Julian Rocks at Byron Bay with the dive crews sometimes to spot turtles which have been tagged.
ASR general manager Kath Southwell said the group was licensed to attach tracking devices to 14 turtles, but at $4000 a tracker, only one had been attached so far.
Former ASR general manager Rochelle Ferris, daughter of ASR founder Lance Ferris, is currently competing her masters degree on turtles.
‘Rochelle would be delighted if we could raise enough money to purchase more trackers for the project,’ Ms Southwell said.
She said ASR had around 25 active volunteers in the Ballina region, and there were branches located on the south and central coast of NSW.