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Turtles! Our Marine Ambassadors are Unwell

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14 – 18 May  2011

S20 02.060 E148 13.917 – Bowen, Queensland, Australia

About a year ago, we wrapped up our epic 18-month Coral Triangle photo expedition with our last leg in Timor Leste. We finished a long photographic marathon and yes, we were eager to finally see the end of it and go home. Now, a year of rest and intense office work later, we’re missing it. Only upon re-reading the archived blog entries am I reminded that we really did it.

When we were asked by Charlie Stevens of WWF Australia to photograph a distressing calamity – that of our marine ambassadors, the green turtles, sick with a debilitating fibropapilloma virus along the Bowen coast of North Queensland, Charlie didn’t wait long for our answer.

Dr. Leo Foyle holds on to green turtle (Chelonia mydas) they named Roxy. Roxy has a severe case of fibropapillomas and has been in JCU lab for many weeks undergoing observation and care.Dr. Leo Foyle holds on to Roxy the green turtle. Roxy has a severe case of fibropapilloma virus and has been in the JCU lab for many weeks undergoing observation and care.

By mid-May, we were ready to hit the road. We packed our camping gear, cameras and underwater housings and drove to Bowen to join a two-day turtle research activity led by the Indigenous Gudjuda landowners, James Cook University marine virologists, Cardwell Indigenous Girringun Rangers, Sea Turtle Foundation, WWF Australia, the Bowen community and many volunteers. There are many questions left unanswered about this horrific virus and we were all there to try to help the researchers and scientists gather more data.

Bowen was buzzing with energy. The traditional Gudjuda (Saltwater People) elders welcomed all of us before the hard work of catching turtles and gathering scientific data began.

Turtle research starts with catching a turtle by an activity called the turtle rodeo.Turtle research started with catching a turtle by turtle rodeo. Chris Muriata, Indgenous Ranger from Girringun, Cardwell with his newly caught green turtle  by "turtle rodeo".Chris Muriata, Indigenous Ranger from Girringun, Cardwell with his newly caught green turtle.

Charlie Stevens was the turtle jumper on our boat. It was all new to him but he was determined! For a novice, he did well catching two green turtles.

JCU volunteer Ron Goodwin tags and measures the green turtle Charlie Stevens of WWF caught.JCU volunteer Ron Goodwin tags and measures the green turtle Charlie Stevens caught.

By late morning, the turtles caught were brought to the mobile lab by the beach with the marine virologists assisted by a battalion of volunteers. The tide was very low and the beach by then was wide and far from the shore – this didn’t stop everyone pitching in to carry the heavy turtles.

Lacy Hansen daughter of a Girringun Indigenous ranger from Cardwell carries a green turtle to shore.Lacie Hansen daughter of a Girringun Indigenous ranger from Cardwell carries a green turtle to shore. Communal effort from Bowen Surf Lifesaver Club Captain Trevor Armstrong, Sea Turtle Foundation Project Manager Julie Traweek & JCU volunteers bring a big green turtle to shore for the scientific research data gathering to get done.Bowen Surf Lifesaver Club Captain Trevor Armstrong, Sea Turtle Foundation Project Manager Julie Traweek & JCU volunteers carry a big green turtle to shore.

And the scary efficient data gathering was underway. The turtles were calmed down with their heads covered with a cloth pouch. They were weighed, measured and photographed.

Dr. Ellen Ariel, marine virologist from JCU photographs a green turtle with Lydia Gibson of WWF-Australia assisting.Dr. Ellen Ariel, marine virologist from JCU photographs a green turtle with Lydia Gibson of WWF Australia assisting.

Doctors/senior lecturers and students from JCU’s School of Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences took blood, skin and shell samples to find out whether these turtles were exposed to heavy metals or other pollutants. Water and sediment samples were also taken from the bay where the turtles were caught.

Dr. Ellen Ariel, marine virologist from JCU along with her Bowen volunteer 9yr old Yadi Dodd pick up a green turtle to gather scientific data from it.Dr. Ellen Ariel, marine virologist from JCU along with her Bowen volunteer 9yr old Yadi Dodd pick up a green turtle to gather scientific data from it. Dr. Ellen Ariel, marine virologist from JCU looks at a green turtle's skin sample  to gather DNA and other scientific data from it.Dr. Ellen Ariel, JCU senior lecturer looks at a green turtle's skin sample to gather DNA and other scientific data from it. Traditional Owner and Gudjuda Elder Jim Gaston expertly holds a green turtle. He was one of the original instigators of turtle rodeo for conservation measures.Traditional Owner and Gudjuda Elder Jim Gaston expertly holds a green turtle. He was one of the original instigator of turtle rodeo as a conservation measure.

From May to August, a different calamity arose. A massive number of turtles along the Queensland coast were dying of starvation.  The loss of sea grass beds after Cyclone Yasi and the floods have wiped out the food source of turtles and dugongs. There is a turtle crisis and turtle rehabilitation centres all along the Queensland coast are in need of help and support. WWF Australia started a Sick Turtle Appeal which ends on the 30th of September. Please please help with your donation.

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Comments


  • http://wwf.panda.org/coraltriangle M-A

    Great post as usual guys, thanks for bringing our attention to this problem. When will the results of the testing be available?

    • http://wwf.panda.org/coraltriangle M-A

      Great post as usual guys, thanks for bringing our attention to this problem. When will the results of the testing be available?

  • http://www.jurgenfreund.com Stella Chiu-Freund

    I can always count on you MA to comment! The scientists have lots of questions but very few answers. Charlie should know when the results of this research will come in. It’s a lot of work and money needed for analysis.

  • http://www.jurgenfreund.com Stella Chiu-Freund

    I can always count on you MA to comment! The scientists have lots of questions but very few answers. Charlie should know when the results of this research will come in. It’s a lot of work and money needed for analysis.

  • Richard Wechsler

    Always, always so interesting to read about what you and Yogi are up to! I had a close encounter with a leatherback turtle off the Virginia coast while fishing. Very impressive – nearly 2 meters long and HUGE! Loggerhead turtles are nesting along our shores now.

    I am feeling that we must visit before to long. Will be at MER in late January. Any chance?

  • Richard Wechsler

    Always, always so interesting to read about what you and Yogi are up to! I had a close encounter with a leatherback turtle off the Virginia coast while fishing. Very impressive – nearly 2 meters long and HUGE! Loggerhead turtles are nesting along our shores now.

    I am feeling that we must visit before to long. Will be at MER in late January. Any chance?

  • Ruel Pine

    Hi Stella!

    Howdy? As usual, great photos.

    Ruel

  • Ruel Pine

    Hi Stella!

    Howdy? As usual, great photos.

    Ruel

  • http://blogs.panda.org/coral_triangle/2011/08/16/t Charlie

    Hi guys, fantastic photo blog as usual by Stella and Yogi! The results of the tests conducted so far should be known by the end of the year, but there’s still a lot more research that needs to be done before the scientists at James Cook University can say for sure what’s causing the disease. And to do that extra work, they need more funds and resources – so we’re trying to help!

  • http://blogs.panda.org/coral_triangle/2011/08/16/t Charlie

    Hi guys, fantastic photo blog as usual by Stella and Yogi! The results of the tests conducted so far should be known by the end of the year, but there’s still a lot more research that needs to be done before the scientists at James Cook University can say for sure what’s causing the disease. And to do that extra work, they need more funds and resources – so we’re trying to help!

  • Pingback: Turtles! Our Marine Ambassadors are Unwell | Jaideepkhanduja’s Weblog()

  • Jessica

    fantastic pictures! 🙂
    I love our ocean too and turtles are a part of our ocean,
    please help take time to watch this short video about our
    coral triangle, i believe that coral triangle are also unwell
    and we need to help save it – http://youtu.be/65xpucJ6llo

  • Raul Boncan

    Hi how can I help in the conservation of the marine turtles in our area Palawan, Philippines? They come back to the same beach to lay their eggs from November to May. So far we have released back more than 2,000 hatchlings into the beach after they come out of the shell. We do wish to start a conservation program and need help from well informed organizations.

  • Raul Boncan

    Hi how can I help in the conservation of the marine turtles in our area Palawan, Philippines? They come back to the same beach to lay their eggs from November to May. So far we have released back more than 2,000 hatchlings into the beach after they come out of the shell. We do wish to start a conservation program and need help from well informed organizations.

  • Ana Ciriyawa

    Bula everyone…
    I’m Ana and im interested in the conservation of the natural environment together with its species worldwide. I am currently a student of the University of the South Pacific and trying to complete my degree in Marine Science. I am hoping to be part of this wonderful global network. Please do let me know how to get in touch.
    Vinaka.

    • http://Www.juegenfreund.com Stella Chiu-Freund

      Bula Ana. It’s best to get in touch with WWF South Pacific’s office in Suva if you want to join in their volunteer programme to start you off. Please visit their website which has all their contact details – http://www.wwfpacific.org.fj/about/contact_us/. All the best, Stella