A loggerhead turtle covered in tiny barnacles was discovered on Ninety Mile Beach in Northland

A tiny loggerhead turtle was found on Northland’s Ninety Mile Beach, covered in barnacles. After being nursed back to health at Auckland Zoo, it has been transferred to Kelly Tarlton’s.

A young loggerhead sea turtle was found very far from home when it washed up on Northland’s Ninety Mile Beach last week.

A member of the public came across the tiny barnacle-covered turtle on July 8 and contacted the Department of Conservation.

A local vet removed the barnacles and a hitch-hiking crab from its shell, and the now-178 gram turtle was taken to Auckland Zoo’s vet clinic for further treatment.

Veterinary nurse Celine Campana said sea turtles shouldn’t be found on land unless it is a female laying eggs. But because the turtle is so young, most likely under 18 months old, it definitely wasn’t nesting.

When the turtle arrived at the zoo, Campana said it was weak, unresponsive and very cold.

It has slowly been warmed up to its usual temperature of 24 degrees and given fluids to help it rehydrate.

X-ray scans showed no obvious problems with the turtle but Campana said it was safe to say it had been unwell in the past.

One thing an X-ray couldn’t show was if it had or hadn’t ingested plastic.

“These little guys, they are too small to crunch on crabs or shellfish, which is there normal diet. At this age, they are pre-programmed to just grab at any little floating things they find.

“Unfortunately, that means when they come across little bits of plastic, they will just go for them voraciously.”

Finding a loggerhead turtle on a New Zealand beach was rare as they usually live in warmer waters. It was likely the turtle had swum off track from Australia.

When sea turtles hatch, Campana said they immediately swim deep into the ocean and stay there as it is much safer for them.

They live under sea grass and items that float, and it is possible this is where it picked up the barnacles.

Barnacles weren’t usually too much of an issue for sea turtles, but because of the turtle’s small size, it would have weighed it down and made swimming more difficult, Campana said.

Auckland Zoo said it was “highly unusual” to treat such a creature and in its 10 years of helping marine sea turtles, it had only looked after about three other loggerheads.

On Friday, the Auckland Zoo team transferred the turtle to Kelly Tarlton’s through its Team Turtle partnership.

There, it will continue its rehabilitation with the hope it will one day be released back into the ocean.