Top End turtles return home

Two Top End turtles found in dire straits last year are set for a return home to the wild after spending the past few months recovering at Charles Darwin University (CDU).

CDU is home to the Top End’s only ongoing turtle rehabilitation facility and has played a key role in restoring Chompa the olive ridley and Gretchen the green sea turtle to full health.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) marine threatened species scientist Rachel Groom said the journey of discovery, recovery and release is very special.

“Olive ridley and green sea turtles are some of our most threatened marine reptiles and we are looking forward to releasing Chompa and Gretchen back into the wild this morning,” Ms Groom said.

"Everyone involved in Chompa and Gretchen’s rescue and rehabilitation has done a wonderful job and I am proud to be part of a team that helps rescued turtles overcome any challenges they might be facing.”

CDU Head of Horticulture, Scott McDonald, said Chompa was one of nine olive ridley stragglers that were found trapped in a nest by plant roots at Bare Sand Island in June 2016 and dug out by Aus Turtle staff and volunteers.

“Some of the hatchlings were released that day while Chompa and four other siblings were homed in a water tank at CDU that was filled with coral, algae and small reef fish,” Mr McDonald said.

“Chompa is the runt of the litter and the last of the litter to be released into Top End waters.”

Mr McDonald said Gretchen was found at Dundee Beach about three months ago, and was treated at the Ark Animal Hospital before arriving at CDU.

“She was floating and unable to dive due to floating gas syndrome; her shell was covered in barnacles, including burrowing barnacles that had drilled into her shell and suffered from a secondary infection to her neck that caused a lump,” he said.

“Ark Animal Hospital removed the lump and the barnacles before sending her to CDU to recover.”

Mr McDonald said that Gretchen and Chompa’s recovery has included learning to swim and dive so they can survive in the wild.

“Our staff form such strong bonds with turtles that, while it’s always a happy moment to see them return to the wild, it can also be hard to say goodbye,” he said.

“The turtle rehabilitation facility is also a great tool to educate uni and high school students, as well as the wider community, about Australia’s marine turtles.”

Mr McDonald said both turtles had some unique characteristics.

“Chompa is a good-natured turtle who likes to eat and enjoys taking bubble baths. She has grown from 6cm to 15cm in the eight months that she has lived at CDU,” he said.

“Gretchen enjoys a good scratch, which is why CDU staff created a coral-like surface especially for her to rub against and eats 1kg of bok choy and 500g of squid per day, donated by CDU and local fishermen.”

Gretchen and Chompa are set to be released at Dundee Beach at 9am today.

People who encounter marine species that need help or rescue are urged to call Marine WildWatch on 1800 453 941.

Last updated: 09 March 2017