Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release
The AQWA Foundation provides essential care for sick and injured marine life, with an emphasis on the rehabilitation of sea turtles for release back to the wild.
Sea turtles, snakes, seahorses and more
AQWA has a team of qualified staff who dedicate a portion of their time to rehabilitating rescued marine life, in particular turtles and sea snakes.
Every animal that receives care at AQWA is one in which we hold a fauna rehabilitation licence for, as issued by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)
Our team work alongside key wildlife authorities and experts such as DBCA, Parks & Wildlife Service & WA Wildlife to ensure the best outcomes for all animals in our care.
Follow our Ocean News blog for updates on animal releases!
What's the problem for WA's turtles?
Predominantly during winter we find a number of turtles wash ashore, particularly from Perth to Bunbury, and are found by members of the public…. here’s why:
A Confusing Current
WA’s amazing Leeuwin Current is a warm water system that flows southward and contributes to our coastline’s incredible biodiversity. However, when it flows strongly in autumn-winter (because opposing winds are weakest) it can catch juvenile turtles by surprise, who enter the current and end up being swept quickly down our coastline… a long way from home.
When these baby turtles hatch from their nests in WA’s north their goal is to swim west to deeper water towards Africa, where there is a known feeding ground. However if they accidentally get caught in the Leeuwin Current it can unfortunately bring them too far south, where they experience cold shock, lethargy from not eating and wash ashore.
Winter & Waste Doesn’t Help Either
The drop in water temperature in winter adds to the turtles’ troubles, as well as the fact that storms cause vast clumps of seaweeds and man-made waste (fishing nets, rubbish) to accumulate and enter the turtles’ paths, often causing them to get entangled, injured or just exhausted from trying to navigate around – eventually leading them to surrender to the waves and wash ashore.
Turtle First Responders
Do you know what to do?
The AQWA Foundation and other wildlife rescue groups rely on the community to alert us to turtle strandings, as well as help with initial care and transport if we can’t get there immediately.
AQWA is home to a purpose-built Turtle Pool designed for the rehabilitation of sick and injured turtles, until they can be released back to the wild (learn more below). Our expert marine qualified staff care for turtles in this facility daily and are always ready to help, even outside of business hours.
If you visit the beach often, familiarise yourself with these crucial steps to become a Turtle First Responder!
Firstly, your instinct might be to put a stranded turtle back into the water – but please DON’T! Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles and can survive out of water for extended periods of time. If a turtle reaches the point of washing up, it needs help and likely medical intervention. They could for example have an injured flipper; have swallowed plastic and are unable to swim properly; be experiencing cold shock; or are weak and exhausted from challenging weather conditions.
Before taking any steps to assist, always make sure you are not putting yourself or anyone else in any danger, then;
- If it’s safe and you are able to assist, gently pick the turtle up, one hand either side of shell, head and flippers free to move.
- Place it on a damp towel in an open container or box.
- Do not fill the container with water – this could cause further issues for the turtle’s temperature regulation.
- Do not cover the container or the animal. Ensure the turtle is free to move its head.
- Do not try to feed or provide water.
- If you caring for the turtle until a service can assist, ensure the environment is as steady as possible (not too hot or cold or constantly changing) and be mindful of pets or other animals nearby.
- Contact a rescue service immediately – every minute is crucial once a turtle has reached the point of washing ashore.
Who To Call
AQWA – The Aquarium of Western Australia (9am – 4pm): (08) 9447 7500.
DBCA Wildcare Helpline (7am – 8.30pm): (08) 9474 9055
WA Wildlife Helpline (24 hours) – (08) 9417 7105
The AQWA Foundation Turtle Pool
A Pool with Purpose
On-site at AQWA you will find the AQWA Foundation Turtle Pool, where our team of specialised staff rehabilitate rescued turtles, ready for release back to the wild.
While its “looks” may not be as pretty as our stunningly curated aquariums, this pool is custom designed to meet the needs of rehabilitating turtles. Did you know we can gradually or rapidly adjust its water depth and temperature? This is essential for meeting the adapting needs of recovering turtles.
The Turtle Pool is also a “sterile” closed-system, meaning water won’t flow in from other aquariums and there is a purposeful lack of corals/rocks/grasses that could cause further damage to turtle in recovery.
Did you know? A sea turtle will only return to dry land for one of two reasons: 1) it is are a breeding-aged female ready to lay her eggs, or 2) it has stranded and needs help! While sea turtles can survive easily out of water, they don’t need a ‘dry space’ when receiving care.
Recipe For Recovery
Once a turtle enters our care, the team will perform triage and provide essential ‘first aid’ before referring it to a veterinary service for thorough check up. While turtles may wash up and require care for many reasons, some of the most common issues we see are:
- Floating, imbalance and buoyancy control issues
- Lung issues / pulmonary disease
- Plastic or other foreign object ingestion
- Damaged flippers and skin lesions
- Entanglements and foreign object piercings
- Carapace (shell) build-up
Sometimes, all a turtle needs is time and a little safe-haven. When greater intervention is required, our team have a broad set of procedures they can implement, including but not limited to:
- Provision of medications, in particular vitamin injections and antibiotics
- Referral and transport for vet services such as surgery, blood tests, CT scans, X-rays etc.
- Freshwater rehydration therapy
- Thermoregulation therapy
- Freshwater bathing for biotic removal, manual carapace cleaning
- Wound treatment & maintenance
- Water-depth management to assist swimming and reduce exhaustion
- Provision of high quality species and size-appropriate food
Among much more!
Did you know? AQWA’s team is also specialized in the care of highly venomous sea snakes, another marine reptiles that often washes ashore requiring medical assistance and rehabilitation.
Back To The Wild
Turtles are a keystone species, which means their survival is vital to the overall health of the ocean. Turtles perform several key functions:
- Encourage the growth of seagrass beds
- Increase nutrients in the sand
- Ensure that there is room for all types of coral on a reef, fostering diversity.
Each of the Earth’s 7 species of sea turtles is considered endangered and are fighting a constant uphill battle against climate change, plastic pollution and overfishing – all man-made, global problems with no simple solutions. This is why it is so important that sick and injured turtles are cared and then returned back to the wild, as every individual animal is essential to its species survival.
Did you know? 6 out of the 7 species of sea turtles in the world are found in WA’s home waters! Just another reason our efforts are essential.
By Air, Road & Sea
When healthy, rehabilitated turtles are approved for release by DBCA, they travel over a thousand kilometres by plane or car in temperature controlled systems back to the Ningaloo Marine Park. A short boat trip later and they’re splashing back in their home waters!
This massive trip (to us!) is just a blip in their overall journey, as sea turtles travel thousands of kilometres for their migrations every year.
Most turtles released back to the wild are ID tagged by DBCA marine scientists so future sightings can be recorded. Some even receive specialised satellite tracking devices, known as Platform Terminal Transmitter (or PTT). The PTT sends a message to a satellite each time the turtle comes to the surface to breathe. allowing their movements and migrations to be tracked over time.
Turtle Rescuer Fact Sheet
Download our Turtle Rescuer fact sheet! It will help you become a turtley awesome first responder.