A bale of sea turtles head back to the big-blue


This week, on Thursday 6 June, AQWA assisted in the successful release of multiple endangered sea turtles back to the wild!

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.

Found washed ashore on beaches from Walpole in the south to Seabird north of Perth, these turtles were fortunate to be rescued by members of the public and brought in for rehabilitation at the purpose-built centres at AQWA and the Dolphin Discovery Centre.

Each turtle has a unique and compelling story. From exhaustion, to injuries caused by marine debris and other hazards, these turtles have faced numerous challenges.

Of the 6 turtles released, Dusty and Hunter were the largest, measuring up to 50cm in length and weighing over 15kg each. Their smallest travelling companion Tommy was just over 27cm in length and weighed almost 3kg.

Remarkably, Dusty, Hunter, Tommy and the other two turtles, Jessie and Bruce, each weighed less than 200gms when they were rescued (roughly the same as a packet of potato chips).

With support from the AQWA Foundation, the turtles were flown from Perth to Exmouth with the release taking place more than 5 nautical miles (approx. 10km) 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 6 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 has taken some time. We certainly will 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 life-long 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), and 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 knowing the dedication and efforts of our staff and volunteers has contributed to the conservation of this threatened turtle species.”

Catherine Buckley, General Manager of AQWA added, “We are thrilled to be part of these turtle’s journey back to their natural habitat, where we are sure they will continue to thrive. The cooperation between AQWA, 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 movement of the Leeuwin current along WA’s coastline. Community members are reminded to call the Wildcare Helpline on (08) 9474 9055 and visit the AQWA’s Turtle Rescue Hub for information on what to do if you discover a sea turtle washed ashore.